Mariel is travelling again!

Sort of… Actually, not since November, and even then it was (very) short distances over a day or perhaps a weekend, but most importantly, over water rather than solid ground, AND – NEWSFLASH! – on her own boat!

Yes, you read that right. More than 18 months since last setting foot on a sailing vessel when I left St Lucia, I have somehow reached the dream I originally set out to achieve, albeit not remotely the way I imagined. (Although, let’s face it, there was so little ‘plan’ involved from the outset that I am not at all surprised).

Where to begin… If you’ve followed this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I left my home and job in December 2019 with the aim of sailing (as crew) across the Atlantic, through the Caribbean and back to Europe, hoping to learn both more about sailing (I’d spent only a week on a boat before I left) and boats, so that when I got back I would feel prepared to buy a boat of my own to live and sail on, avoiding the debt trap of a mortgage or drain of rent.

I made it from the Canaries to the Caribbean with Gill and John on board Mehalah, and managed one island hop to St Lucia before covid struck and the world went into lockdown. With boats allowed to leave but not return, and other islands shutting their borders like dominoes, I found a land-based workaway to sit out the storm. But when St Lucia announced they were closing their airport with no idea when it might re-open again, and with the window for sailing home before hurricane season rapidly closing, I decided to book the last flight back to the UK.

I spent the spring, summer and autumn living in a shed in my parents’ garden, transforming what had been a field into vegetable production, and growing more cucumbers than any family could eat. Covid restrictions prevented me from travelling too far to view or crew on boats, but I was happy to be greening my fingers.

Autumn arrived and the prospect of staying in a shed with no insulation, power or water did not appeal. Besides, it was due to be filled with furniture from the house my family was selling.

I took the opportunity to overwinter with a friend in her house in Cornwall, imagining I’d spend a few months close to the sea, boats and crewing opportunities, ready to buy a boat in the springtime. Alas, it was not to be. The combination of continuing covid restrictions, the depressing reality of Brexit (and not being able to stay in Europe for more than 3 months in any 6 – not ideal for a plan to cruise the Med!) and my newly acquired puppy walking off a cliff and taking a significant chunk of my savings with him (he survived with a wonky leg full of expensive metal and his usual cheeky personality) meant that the prospect of sailing again, let alone buying a boat, faded away.

Furze a couple of days after surgery to try to put his smashed femur back together – now just over a year ago.
Keep your dogs on leads near to cliff edges folks!

Fast forward a few months and I have met Michael. He’s sailing regularly with a local charity, building up miles and qualifications on his way to being a Yachtmaster and hopefully an instructor. His stories and photos of his trips and the places he gets to visit make me long to sail again, and his experiences make him long for a boat of his own.

We half-jokingly browse facebook marketplace for boats for sale, and view one that turns out to be a wreck. Then one sunny Wednesday morning in October, Michael is away sailing and I avoid my very long to do list by taking a walk down the river down the road from where we live.

The first boat I see is called Mehalah – the only other one I have seen since my Atlantic crossing. I pause to take a photo for Gill and John, then notice that another boat on the slip behind is for sale. I took a quick photo, and in the spur of the moment, sent a text to the number on the for sale sign asking for more information. Furzey dog and I continued our walk in the sunshine without thinking too much about it. Later that day, I sent a picture of the boat to Michael, joking that I’d found our boat. He spent the evening on facebook marketplace and found her there.

Spotted through the trees

It turned out she was a Westerly Centaur (which you might remember was the very first boat that I set foot on and looked at buying back in May 2019, and subsequently sailed on between Weymouth and Poole with friendly Steve who I met at a bus stop whilst walking the South West Coast Path that summer).

I’d thought them the perfect little boats for starting out on then, and this one was no exception – well maintained, fully equipped and ready to sail away (single handed, if one so desired, with all lines running back to the cockpit). A bilge keel, so suitable for taking up river and keeping on cheaper moorings that dry out at low tide, and with such a mooring about as close to our home as it was possible to be without being on land.

We arranged to go and view her that weekend, keeping our fingers crossed that the couple who requested a viewing first didn’t take her. We met David and Helen on Sunday morning, and spent 2 hours chatting to them on board. Whispering Willow, as she was called, had been well loved and cared for by a handful of owners in her 40ish years, making her way slowly westwards down the south coast. She came with a file of receipts and records of all the maintenance work she’d had done, showing that she’d been at a tiny boatyard downriver from the town where I’d been at school, then for many years at the yacht club nearest to where I lived in Devon – where I’d been sailing for the first time at a Push the Boat Out weekend, and where I would have driven past her every time I’d gone to the beach (very regularly).

She’d been sailed extensively between the Solent and the Scillies and didn’t seem to have ever come to harm. Having said goodbye to David and Helen, saying we’d be in touch later that day, the conversation on our afternoon walk quickly turned from “shall we buy this boat?” to “do we want to buy a boat?” – if we didn’t buy this one, seemingly the perfect boat in the perfect place at the perfect time, then it seemed unlikely that we ever would.

Having reviewed our combined savings, we sent D&H an offer which, remarkably, they accepted! We moved the boat down to her mooring with them (via a short motor down river) that Friday afternoon, and took her out for a first solo voyage on the Sunday. Without perfect wind or tides, we mostly motored, but enjoyed a brief period under full sail seeing how she handled, and lunch in the sun on a pontoon up river.

Who needs to buy a house when you have a boat?!
Maiden voyage in the sunshine
Picnic spot up river

The following weekend we went for longer, the tides not allowing us to get back on the mooring in one day, and spent the night on a pontoon at a nearby yacht harbour. Our first night of rocking, squeaking lines and fenders, and our first breakfast watching the sun rise over the calm water.

Breakfast on board

Furze wasn’t sure about his first sail – the proximity to the water seems to worry him somewhat (even with his very small life vest on, which we deemed necessary after he nearly drowned himself in a slow moving river in the summer, adventure dog that he is), but very happy to sleep down below when we were underway.

Furze keeping an eye out for freak waves and sharks

So there we have it. Mariel has a boat, a man, a dog, and is looking forward to a spring and summer of south coast voyages as a family of four. Yes, four. If you’ve read this far, you deserve to know that there is another plot twist in Mariel’s travels – a mini sailor is expected to join the crew any day – eek!

Memories of moving through Madagascar

“Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to you,

Happy birthday to Mariel,

Happy birthday to you!”

Midnight, and I have just turned 22 in the middle of a rice paddy somewhere in Madagascar. Lisa has got her shoe stuck in the mud and, wobbling on one leg, retrieved it looking like a large wet brick. We were all laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of our situation when I checked my watch and realised that it was now my birthday.

With Lisa’s shoe cleaned as much as possible and back on her foot, we look up and realise that we don’t know where we are or where we are supposed to be going, and that the dark figures that were ahead of us leading the way have all disappeared.

The truck we were travelling in got its second flat tyre of the night half an hour ago, half sunk on the edge of the rice paddy, and rather than waiting cramped inside, everyone was told to get out and walk to the next village where we’d be picked up.

I don’t actually remember how we found this mystery village, but eventually, out of the gloom, we saw the shapes of 50 or more people sitting huddled on the ground outside a few dark huts, and joined them. I lay down in the damp grass and slept until the truck was rumbling again next to me. I left it until the very last possible moment before opening my eyes and climbing back on board for the rest of our journey.

Anyone who has taken any kind of informal public transport in a developing country will no doubt have a story of a car, bus, truck or bike with innumerable passengers, chickens, goats, baskets of fish, children and the elderly crammed together or hanging off the sides. The three months that I spent working in Madagascar in 2011 gave me plenty, but this journey was by far the most extreme and memorable.

It had started the previous morning, when we had packed up our gear and supplies from the basketball court where we’d been staying in the town of Vohemar, ready to catch the taxi brousse that we’d been told would collect us at 9am. Of course, 9am came and went, and a group of teenagers came and played a whole game of basketball before a giant old army style truck appeared around 12.30pm.

Watching basketball while we waited for the taxi brousse

We loaded up our bags into the ominously empty truck (everybody knows that no self-respecting taxi brousse will set out until it is well and truly full) and were driven a few minutes across town to an open grassy area where a few other people were milling around. We were ejected, and the truck drove off again for a couple of hours, collecting other passengers and luggage for the journey north. Meanwhile, we read books in the sun and ate the lunch we had prepared in the morning to eat on the journey.

As we waited, more and more people arrived carrying bags, sacks and boxes, and children and livestock. When the truck eventually reappeared, everything was emptied out and then meticulously repacked. This 8ft high truck was packed to within 3ft of the canvas roof, which in turn was piled high with sacks of rice and mattresses, leaving just enough space for the passengers to climb up and file in, sitting squashed together, knees up, between the sacks and bags below and the laden roof above.

Loading and reloading. Yes, al of those people (and more) got into the back of that truck.

Being vahazas (white people), we were granted the luxury position – the back end of the truck, with fresh air and a view out behind us. When the truck looked to me already full, I was helped up and sat with my knees up around my chin on the edge of a sloping sack of rice. I held on to a wooden slat above my head to try to stop myself from sliding out. I didn’t think there could be any more room, but a woman and baby climbed up and perched on my feet, hanging precariously out of the back.

Hanging on in the back (Photo: Lisa Labinjoh)

By 6pm, we were finally on the move, and travelled a mere 15 minutes out of town (passed the police checkpoint) before we stopped next to another 20 people and their luggage waiting to get on. People and possessions were once more unloaded and reloaded, and there being no more space to hang from the back, Ismael and I were offered a position on top of the cab. I was keen, but Ismael refused to let me, saying that it would get cold, I would fall asleep, fall off the roof and die, so I reluctantly climbed into the supposedly two-man cab with the driver and four of my colleagues. I was perched on the corner of a brief case, neck bent sideways to stop it hitting the roof at every bump.

Joining the cab… still all smiles at this early stage

When we stopped for a dinner break an hour later, we rearranged the cab so that we had two rows of two sharing the one passenger ‘seat’, with Matt perched on the edge and leaning half out of the open window.

The engine cover between the two seats was hot, and we crouched again on tiptoes with our knees around our ears. The heat burnt my bum and passed through the soles of my green plastic ‘lucky elephant’ flipflops. When Matt said he couldn’t decide which position was more comfortable for his arm, Lisa, Lucy, Tim and I all exclaimed that he was lucky to have more than one option, because we certainly didn’t!

Every now and then, the truck stopped in the darkness for more people to join or for some to leave. Until 3am, we were still laughing at the absurdity of the situation, and watching the small tropical frog that joined us for a time in the cab. But after 3am, with my butt and feet burning and my hips feeling as though they might crack into pieces, the laughter faded and we travelled in silence, unable to sleep and desperate to just stretch our aching limbs.

At 5am, it was finally our turn to disembark, in a small village apparently renowned for witchcraft. It was too early to meet the village chief or the caretaker of the hall we were due to stay in, so I got out my sleeping bag and fell asleep in the grass.

It was only an hour or so later that we were woken to move into the hall. It was the only building in the village with a concrete floor, dusty, covered in gecko poop that had fallen from the roof, and with cockroaches that scuttled into the corners as we put down our sleeping mats for another hour’s sleep.

We spent the day working. Lucy and I mapped the village while Ismael and Tim conducted interviews as part of a socioeconomic survey we were doing. When they returned at lunchtime, they carried with them a handsome chicken hanging upside down by the legs – my birthday present, bought from a woman they had just interviewed. The chicken sat outside the hall all afternoon, legs tied, occasionally trying to make a bid for freedom but failing. At dusk, his throat was cut and he was plunged into boiling water before being plucked.

The birthday chicken. Photo: Lisa Labinjoh

Having observed the sacrifice with interest and given thanks, I went for a wash behind a chest height screen in the village mayor’s garden under the stars. Clumps of my hair fell out in my hands as I washed it, the result of a diet of mostly rice and beans for a little too long.

When I returned to the hall, I found a balloon tied to the end of my mosquito net, a bottle of wine and a card, smuggled in from the last shopping trip in town. Ismael and Jery had turned the chicken into a delicious stew with the last of the vegetables. “We’ve given you the feet” Matt said. I remembered when my brother Alec had given our brother Tim a chicken’s amputated foot in a box for his birthday a few years previously (the hen had survived a fox attack, but her injured leg had eventually fallen off and she’d lived for many more happy years as Hoppity the one-legged chicken). There was no mobile signal in this village, so I’d not been able to text or speak to any of my friends or family as I’d hoped to.

Birthday dinner – chicken feet being the special treat. Photo: Lisa Labinjoh

In the end, Ismael enjoyed the feet, and we were all in bed by 9pm, the earliest I’d be in my bed on my birthday until I was old and retired, I thought.

I woke up the following morning with cockroaches inside my mosquito net, earning myself the nickname Roach Girl.

It would be another week before we reached anywhere with phone signal, and 10 days before the sight of a pyramid of four small cherry tomatoes for sale outside a house would bring me to tears (fresh fruit!), having subsisted on rice, beans and an octopus for days, and two weeks before I saw tarmac roads or sat on a toilet again.

I was still yet to travel by zebu cart worthy of the flintstones, or on a boat carrying octopus up the coast, which would throw us out into the sea to spend the night on a beach rumoured to host man-eating crocodiles. And I was still yet to learn that mosquito nets can protect you from more than just malaria, when a rat ran over my face during the night.

Those are stories for another time, but each year as I celebrate another trip around the sun, I think back to where I have celebrated birthdays past, and remember the cramped truck cab, cockroaches, chicken and the friends with whom I shared it with a grin.

Adventures still to come – the flintstone cart with solid wood wheels
And enjoying a boat journey in between stopping to have fish and octopus flung over the side… Photo: Lisa Labinjoh
Yep, there comes another one

Three months of (privileged) lockdown

July (!) and here in England we are emerging from lockdown with abandon. Not that much changes for me – I’ll continue to spend my days predominantly outside, walking to the few places I need to go and seeking out the quiet parts of the coastline away from the crowds that descended in the sun a couple of weeks ago.

I have now been back at home (in the shed) and growing vegetables longer than I was away. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder my multitude of privileges, very aware that lockdown for me has (on the whole) been a joy; an opportunity to reconnect with the land I grew up in, spend time with my family, and with time and space to reflect and create. I haven’t been trapped in a flat. I don’t have anyone dependent on me for care or entertainment. I don’t have a business to keep afloat, or rent to pay. I’ve even been able to do some work online from my shed, returning (in part) to the job I left in December at Trill Farm.

I wrote some of my reflections on the inequalities in our food system that coronavirus has exposed for the Trill Farm journal, and have copied an edited version below. Posting endless photos of my abundant crops doesn’t feel right without acknowledging how privileged I am to be able to grow them in the first place.

The past few months of lockdown have been a chance for reflection for some, and a real struggle for others. As coronavirus swept across Europe, shoppers in the UK spent an extra £1 billion panic buying food and essentials over three weeks in March. The ensuing empty shelves and disrupted supply chains both nationally and internationally were symptomatic of much deeper problems in our food system.

By mid-April, food insecurity in the UK was estimated to have quadrupled, due to a combination of increased economic difficulty, a lack of food available in the shops, and isolation. By the end of April, the number of households visiting foodbanks had almost doubled compared to the same period the previous year.

Meanwhile, our farmers were still producing just as much food, but struggling to get it to markets. Dairy farmers reported washing uncollected milk down the drain. Growers including Ash and Kate at Trill Farm Garden had to rapidly turn around their growing and business plans to supply local households instead of the suddenly closed catering industry. And those kitchens with shut doors had to figure out a way to keep feeding people in their own homes, and, as Chris has in the Old Dairy Kitchen, start supplying meals to local food banks too.

While all of this has been going on, the Black Lives Matter movement has reminded many of us of our privileges and the inequality that exists in the access to food, nature and land. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) households in the UK are 1.5 times more at risk of household food insecurity, and significantly less likely to spend time in the natural environment or have access to local greenspaces.

When food is one of our closest links to nature, as well as our primary support for our health and wellbeing, this inequality is bad news for both our health and that of the planet. In response, the Landworker’s Alliance is piloting projects to test how small scale producers can provide good food to those who need it most.

Access to land and training for future growers is also limited to a privileged few though. Many begin their journeys by volunteering (for example wwoofing), which is only possible with the privilege of time to take out of studies or employment, and the safety net of savings. Trill Farm Garden are working to link up with horticultural training in urban areas to provide wider access to their traineeships.

Running concurrently to the coronavirus food shortages and raised awareness of inequality, the UK government have been debating the new Agriculture Bill, setting the standards for our food and farming industry in a post-Brexit world. A trade deal with the US is still on the table, risking imports of food produced with herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics and steroids that are banned in the UK, undermining our food standards and undercutting our farmers. The cheapest food available to the poorest members of our society will be the least healthy, strengthening the bonds between poverty, food insecurity and poor health, and making it even harder for small scale farmers to survive.

So where do we go from here? We need to build resilience in our food system. With more growers and shorter, localised supply chains, we could reduce our dependency on imports of fruits and vegetables, but we need to promote equality in access to training and land, to ensure that good food is available to the many, not the few. This is what Romy has been striving towards for the past 12 years at Trill Farm, sharing the land with other enterprises and teaching skills and inspiring responsible living. But there is always more to learn and more to do.

If you’re interested in supporting access to land and training for minority groups, check out LION (Land In Our Names). To receive or support training and advice for growers, and to find out how you can best influence the new Agriculture Bill, visit the Landworker’s Alliance. And if you can, continue to support your local farmers, growers and food producers by buying from them even when the supermarket shelves are restocked.

Today’s harvest – there are more garden updates on instagram (@marielstravels)

An update from the garden

I realised this evening that I’ve been home seven weeks, which is almost as long as I spent on boats between January and March. Hours have turned into days, into weeks and now months. Instead of the thousands of miles I had thought I would be sailing, the dozens of shores I was going to visit and tropical seas I’d swim in, I doubt I’ve travelled more than 5 miles from my shed, and usually by foot or pedal.

I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by fields and woodland, with coastline within walking distance in all directions except north. I’ve been able to walk to empty beaches and reconnect with my beloved sea (a good 15C colder than it was last time I swam in it the evening I left St Lucia).

As I walk the familiar footpaths, it’s not just the landscape I travel through but years of memories. It has been a blessing to rediscover old paths and hidden places from my childhood in the peace and quiet of lockdown, while nature has filled the spaces usually taken up by visiting tourists and missed in the rush of flying visits.

I have watched as spring has turned the trees a vivid green, as the grass has grown and as different wildflowers emerge each day. All but one of the 13 ewes at home have lambed now, and we have 17 bright and bold characters in the lamb gang, running through the fields together, ignoring their mothers’ bleats and climbing anything they can find.

A few of the lamb gang a-frolicking

The swallows have returned, and cuckoo’s call has echoed down the valley. The resident barn owls and tawny owls do the rounds at dusk, and a pair of pied wagtails have courted and nested in my garden.

A family of wood mice have taken up residence beneath the shed and the caravan. They are used to my presence now and I often see the grass moving and hear them chomping through the undergrowth, with the occasional beady eye shining through. After I blocked up the hole they were using to get into the caravan at night to nibble on my tender pea shoots, they have only gnawed the edges of my bar of soap on the table outside. Long may our happy coexistence continue.

And the garden. I’ve dug and I’ve sown and I’ve planted and I’ve sweated and ached and been semi-permanently covered in a fine layer of soil. Slowly but surely, soil has been revealed beneath the turf, and tiny seedlings have emerged from the bare ground and grown bigger every day.

The first signs of life

And tonight, finally, I ate my first meal consisting not mostly of wild garlic foraged from the woods, but featuring produce I have grown. It may have only been two radishes and a handful of baby salad leaves, but I challenge you to find me a more tender, sweet or juicy radish, or a leaf with a shorter journey from soil to supper.

Soil to supper in seconds

As I ate it, I sat on a bench in the last of the evening sun and reflected on the past few weeks. I have dug eight new beds in strips, and cleared the area between the shed and caravan for my salads, strawberries and (soon) tomatoes and cucumbers. I’ve planted potatoes, radishes, beetroot, carrots, turnips, kales, cabbages, leeks, fennel, squash, courgettes, far too many peas and beans and a whole bunch of flowers.

I have a caravan full of seedlings and herbs waiting to be planted out after this week’s cold nights have passed. (We had a frost a couple of nights ago which the squash and runner beans were not happy about).

The caravan has made a very effective greenhouse

I’ve created an outdoor shower, reusing parts from a solar shower that Alec put together a couple of years ago, and planted sweet peas around it to (eventually) grant some degree of modesty. Dad has even found me an old mast in the hay barn (?!) which I can lean against the opposite side of the wall to hoist my bucket of warm water from instead of a sail.

The sunny shower

I’ve built a fence to keep the sheep out, and Tim and Beth spent a frustrating afternoon pulling rusty old hinges from the bonfire to create a functioning gate for me.

Gate installation (back when only two beds were dug!)

The turf I have taken off I am using to build a turf bench, which so far the sheep have enjoyed climbing and sleeping on more than we have sat on it, but hopefully it will be finished by the end of the weekend. The next project is to build a cob pizza oven, which Dad delivered a tractor bucket full of clay for this afternoon, removed from a new fence line he is putting in. Watch this space…

Turf bench in progress

For now, I’m looking forward to sharing my (hopefully) abundant produce with as many visitors as possible once it is safe to do so.

Coming Home to Compost

I’m sawing through old planks of wood, building compost bays as part of my effort to dig for victory in this battle against food shortages amidst a global pandemic of coronavirus. (What a context…) At the start of this year, I was a couple of days into a journey that would take me through Europe, across the Atlantic and around the Caribbean. I had only the vaguest of plans, and the whole world open to me. I had no idea where I would end up, who I would meet or the experiences I would gain. I was, however, fairly certain I wouldn’t be building compost bays in the walled garden back at home by the end of March.

But here I am, and I notice my great-grandfather’s writing on one of the planks. CUT KNOT it says, in capital letters. I have taken many parts of my blessed childhood and adult life for granted, I am realising, and one of those things is that I recognise my great-grandfather’s handwriting. Don’t ask me how. I just always have. Just as I have always known my parents’ handwriting, and indeed my own.

My great-grandfather, John Dymond, died before my mum knew she was pregnant with me, but his life and choices have influenced mine in so many ways that it seems strange to me to realise that we never met. Of course, it’s not just his influence that has shaped me; it was with my great-grandmother (Gran) that he bought the house and land where I’m working now back in 1952. Of equal significance, my grandmother (Granny) who moved here with my Dad when he left school, and of course my parents, who made this their home nearly 40 years ago.

As I push the wheelbarrow out through the garden door, I notice the buds showing on the apple tree growing against the wall. I ate my first whole apple off that tree as a toddler. The fruit are small, bright red with pink flesh and are sweet and juicy. When Dad gave it a brutal pruning with a chainsaw a few years ago, Mum and I grieved for a tree that we feared might be lost forever. But our faithful tree sprouted from the two bare trunks, and now stretches above the wall behind it once more. The old branches used to hang over the door frame. Opening the door in late spring, you’d be met with a face full of blossom. In late summer and autumn, we duck low beneath the branches hanging heavy with fruit.

When I was born, this whole acre of walled garden was cultivated by Granny. She had endless asparagus, rose arches, fruit bushes, potatoes… One of my earliest memories is sheltering from the rain under a giant rhubarb leaf while she worked. She kept a butter knife ready to harvest her produce. As I pass through the door, I see her knife still wedged in the doorframe, rusty with nearly 30 years of no use.

For an acre is too much for one person to cultivate alone, especially someone as busy as my Granny, and not long after my memory of sheltering beneath the rhubarb, she left the garden to go fallow and let her ponies in to graze it.

Ivy grew up the walls. Ash, sycamore and elder trees grew around the edges and along the fence line in the middle.

As a teenager, I helped Granny feed and look after her ponies. She kept her stallion, Windy, in the walled garden with his mares. In winter, the ground became thick with mud. I’d climb over the gate into a bog almost reaching the top of my wellies, hefting a bale of hay whilst the ponies pushed behind me, eager to be fed.

The gate was tied shut with a loop of plaited baler twine. Never one to waste precious resources, Granny would cut open a bale of hay as close to the knots as possible so as to preserve the maximum length of twine, which she strung up over a beam in the hay barn. She taught me to plait using baler twine, sitting at the top of the path outside her garden one spring morning. She would plait it into halters for the ponies, knot it into hay nets, and use it to secure gates and fences. As I shovel woodchip into the wheelbarrow from the floor of the old woodshed to add to my compost heap, I notice a piece of plaited baler twine, left long after the railing it held up has been chopped for firewood.

By the time I was studying for my GCSEs, Windy the stallion had gone and the garden was green rather than muddy. I would walk up here with a pair of secateurs and a folding saw in my pocket, taking breaks from revision to clear hidden corners of my own Secret Garden. I cut brambles into foot long sections the way Granny had taught me, making them easier to rake up onto a bonfire, and sawed through mats of ivy as thick as tree trunks growing up the walls. I went back to school with scratches up my arms and legs.

I tip the woodchip from the wheelbarrow into the compost bays, and see the imprint of one of the old ivy ‘trees’ against the wall behind, bare brick where the lichen has yet to colonise. The walls are bare now, and the scrub and brambles all cleared, but for a moment I am back in my shady refuge, saw in hand and brambles all around me.

I left home a couple of years later, to study and then to work abroad. The ponies left too, Granny no longer able to care for them herself. A small flock of sheep arrived to graze in their place.

I moved back home for a month in the middle of my Masters degree. My boyfriend was training for a few weeks at a camp down the road, and it was one of the very rare opportunities that we had to live together. When he returned from work in the late afternoon, I’d leave my computer and research and we’d head to the walled garden together, felling trees, feeding ivy from the walls to Nettle the sheep, and burning bonfires late into the evening. Sometimes as I work, I get a whiff of the smell that defined that month; the damp soil, the spring grass and blossom, the musky scent of the sheep and a hint of sea air.

The following spring and early summer, I was at home again, digging up a section of the cleared garden to grow vegetables in. That summer, I hosted my first Mazzapaloza birthday festival weekend, with friends camping together in the walled garden, cooking on campfires, and swimming in the sea each day. Mum dug out an old travel toilet that had belonged to my great-grandparents, and set it up in a wild corner beneath a hawthorn tree, with a jar of her scented sweet peas as decoration.

My great-grandparents’ travel toilet has been recommissioned once more, as I isolate myself up here in the garden where I work, sleeping in the shed and creating a different type of compost.

I take the ancient tractor to collect grass cuttings from the heap in the old duck run. It’s been years since I last sat on it. I learnt to drive on this tractor, when my legs were too short and I had to stand up to jump on the brakes to slow down. My legs are longer and stronger now, but I feel the same fear of not being able to stop.

As I shovel the rotting grass cuttings into my new compost bays, my Dad is working in the opposite corner of the garden. He is building a new woodshed, repurposing timbers from the shed built by my great-grandfather at least 50 years ago, and roof sheets from the old stable block.

My parents are preparing to build their new life up here, converting the old potting shed into a home, when the house my great-grandparents bought nearly 70 years ago will be sold. As much as possible, it will be built with the materials around us; timber from a fallen oak behind the garden, and materials from previous structures my great-grandparents and Granny put in place.

We have a black and white photo of the three of them sharing a picnic in front of the potting shed door, surrounded by overgrown grass and brambles. It was taken when they were coming to view the house before they’d bought it. They knew the magic of it even then.

They nurtured the abandoned land and dilapidated house back to beauty and life, leaving a legacy of a blessed childhood home for me and my brothers and all our cousins who shared it.

As I fork layers of grass cuttings, woodchip and bonfire ash into the compost, it is not just organic matter that I am adding, but memories and stories and love. Over time, I hope they will nourish the ground, nourish the food we eat, and nourish us as we feed on the fruits of our labours with family and friends when all this craziness and isolation is over, and make more happy memories to nourish our souls, as this garden has nourished mine.

I may be back home earlier than I had anticipated, but it is here that I belong.

My newly engaged grandparents (grinning at each other), Granny’s friend Susan and Gran sharing a picnic outside the potting shed door, 1952.
My humble vegetable patch in front of that same door, summer 2014.
Apple blossom at the garden door, spring 2014.
And overhanging the doorway (pre-chainsaw-pruning), spring 2014.
Nettle in her youth, eating up the ivy as we pulled it from the walls, spring 2013.
And this week, in lamb and visiting me at my new front door in the corner of the garden.
Slowly filling my new compost bays in the evening light and against the imprint of the old ivy on the wall, whilst enjoying a socially-distant sundowner with my parents. How lucky am I?

Heading Home

Thursday 26th March 2020, 18:45, Hewanorra International Airport, St Lucia

How bizarre. I feel somewhat lightheaded with the madness of it. It has taken me 3 months to get here, rarely travelling faster than the wind or I could propel myself, yet in less than 12 hours I will be back where I started at my parent’s front door. But not through it. Oh no. I’ll be living in a caravan in a field for the next couple of weeks, in case I pick up something nasty on the flight or in either airport.

I’ve loved that this journey has been all about travelling slowly. That I’ve found ways to get where I need to go without flying, and that they have invariably been more interesting, taken me to places I’d never otherwise have seen and introduced me to so many people. And that my soul has never been left behind.

So why am I flying now? I wish I didn’t have to. I wish I could stay here in beautiful St Lucia, exploring and building friendships and finding a new boat to sail onwards in. But I can’t bear the thought of being here if (or more likely, when?) my family are sick at home, unable to reach them.

St Lucia announced on Monday that they were closing the airport to international flights, but would allow a limited number of empty planes to land in order to repatriate foreign travellers. Although they said it would only be for a couple of weeks, the government here are being incredibly proactive in preventing the introduction or spread of COVID-19.

The first two cases (reportedly in a BA pilot and crew member) were immediately quarantined and have since been sent home to the UK, and the only other confirmed case is in quarantine too. Cruise ships were banned from stopping here over a week ago. The ferry I caught from Martinique was one of the last. Passengers on subsequent ferries were placed into isolation in a hotel in Rodney Bay for observation.

Gatherings of more than 10 people were banned, and two days later all non-essential services were closed. All these precautions, when there are still only 3 cases and no community transmission, lead me to suspect that there’ll be no more planes to or from the UK until the UK is clear of the virus – which could be months.

The travel restrictions are not limited to flights. No yachts are allowed to arrive in St Lucia. From Al’s boat, I watched the marine police boat waiting at the entrance to the bay and intercepting any incoming vessels. The customs boat came around, checking names of boats to see that no one had snuck in overnight.

The marine police intercepting a yacht in Rodney Bay

The chances of getting on a boat to sail back to Europe seem to have been diminishing. For one, there is a time limit. Hurricane season begins on 1st June, so I’d need to be north of St Lucia at least by then. Secondly, most boats stop off at the Azores, which shut its borders long ago. If I stuck to my plan of sailing home, I may end up waiting for more than a year, until boats start sailing back in May 2021. Too long, even for me, to wait.

So here I am, waiting for the last flight back to London for who knows how long.

This week I have been working at an ecolodge in return for a room and food. Sylvie and her son could not have been more welcoming of a stranger in the midst of all this madness. As her son had just arrived back from school in Martinique, and I’d arrived only a few days before, we practiced self isolation, each with our own kitchens and bathrooms, working 2m apart in the garden and dining at opposite ends of the table in the evening.

It felt good to reconnect with the land, to feel dirt beneath my fingernails and smell the lush vegetation in the tropical showers. The soundscape was new; birds, crickets and frogs chirping an ever changing chorus through the day and night. I watched hummingbirds feed from the moringa tree outside my room, and walked the dogs each evening to the beach or the river.

We weeded the beds between the banana and papaya trees, sowed pumpkins, beans, maize and set up drip lines to water them
The moringa tree outside my room was full of all three species of hummingbird found in St Lucia
Washing off the day’s work in the sea
The quiet beach 10 minutes from the house
Exploring up the river
Coconut trees sprout everywhere
One of my jobs was to paint a new sign for one of the guest houses. I haven’t really painted since GCSE Art, 15 years ago, but was given this travel watercolour set as a leaving present at work and have loved having the time and opportunity to use them. This is a purple throated carib feeding from the moringa.
Finished just in time

I could easily have stayed, and indeed have questioned my decision to leave many times. Am I cheating, heading home like this? Will I regret it in the future?

These are unprecedented times, and I know I’m not the only person making difficult decisions and changing their plans and behaviour. One upside is that it was £700 cheaper to book a return flight than a one way (!!), so if by some miracle this all blows over, I can fly back here (conscience permitting) and jump back on a boat sometime in the future.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing my family (from a safe distance) and refamiliarising myself with the place I call home; my favourite oak tree, the unique dawn chorus, the friendly flock of sheep and the lambs due in a couple of weeks, the secret corners of fields that hold so many memories, growing vegetables in the land I have known all my life. Investing myself without distraction in a place that I have been unable to justify doing so in for too many years. Exchanging this version of paradise for one of my very own (albeit 20 degrees cooler).

Really, there’s no question about going home.

Stranded in St Lucia

Thursday 19th March, 10.30am, on board SV Ecce Diem, anchored in Rodney Bay, St Lucia

What a crazy world we find ourselves in. I arrived here in St Lucia on Saturday morning, having waved goodbye to Gill and John from a small ferry leaving Martinique, to join Al on his 45ft Passport, Ecce Diem, planning to sail north through the islands.

All packed and ready for the early morning ferry
Another farewell from a ferry dock. Waving goodbye to Ben from the ferry in Cadiz seems more than 2 months ago!

However, in the 5 days since I arrived here, the island chain has shut down, as one after the other, each island has closed its borders to all vessels in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus.

My plan had been to sail north via Dominica to Antigua, to meet up with some long lost relatives, then find a boat sailing back to Europe, but none of that is possible anymore.

Rules and guidelines have been changing on an hourly basis, meaning that some boats have sailed away from one island only to find that they are denied entry at their destination, and the island that they just left won’t let them back in. For some boats, this is not a huge problem – it is essentially not so different from the ocean passage I just made, being self-sufficient whilst bobbing around at sea, but only if you are already provisioned for up to 2 months, or maybe longer. Being stuck out at sea is not a risk that Al and I are willing to take, so now we are here at anchor in St Lucia, allowed to leave but not to return, and unable to visit any other islands.

Al had intended to sail his boat back to the US this spring to get it out of the hurricane belt, but can no longer count on stopping anywhere to reprovison, refuel or top up on water, or even being allowed to re-enter the states. He would need crew from the US (or with a current visa and clean recent travel history), but no one is allowed to fly or sail in to help, so he is now planning to haul the boat out here, ending his first cruising season early and hope that St Lucia maintains its current hurricane-free record for another year.

So what do I do next?

As I see it, I have three options:

1) Fly back to the UK

There are still (limited) flights from St Lucia to the UK, so it is not impossible, but it doesn’t make sense to me to to leave somewhere relatively safe via public transport to a country and region in the grip of the pandemic. There have only been 2 confirmed cases of COVID-19 here, both from foreign travellers who were immediately quarantined and no community transmission so far. Anyway, I don’t want to fly, and what would I do when I got home?

2) Try to find another boat still planning to sail home and try to join them

I have been in touch with a boat sailing up the island chain and back to the UK via Canada, Greenland, Ireland and Norway, and had hoped to join them somewhere along the chain. But they now have the same problem of not being able to stop anywhere.

They are currently in St Vincent and the Grenadines, so I could potentially fly down to join the boat, but again, do not want to fly unnecessarily and am wary of leaving one place to meet up with others who can no longer reach me and being stuck somewhere new. So for now, that option is out too.

3) Stay in St Lucia

It’s a beautiful island. Here in Rodney Bay, we are surrounded by wooded hills. Although the border is closed, at the moment the shops and restaurants are still open and well stocked (except for soap…) Everybody speaks English, and there are plenty of beaches, forests and waterfalls to explore.

My view from Ecce Diem (St Lucia Marine Police boat just out of shot – intercepting any new boats entering the bay)

I have signed up to workaway, a website which links up volunteers with hosts who need help with farming, gardening, childcare, building, managing ecolodges etc. Volunteers offer help in exchange for food and accommodation. There are a few hosts here on the island, and I’m hoping that at least one will be happy for me to stay with them a while.

So it looks like I’ll be experiencing the Caribbean from land rather than sea for the foreseeable future. The great joy of having such a vague original plan was that this does not feel a loss in the slightest, but a wonderful opportunity to experience something new.

As confusing and unsettling as the past few days have been here, with the world changing around us, I am very aware of the incredibly fortunate position I am in. There are far worse places to be stuck than on a Caribbean island. And the plus-side (actually one of the many) of having made myself effectively unemployed and homeless is that I have no work to lose and no rent or mortgage that I am unable to pay.

I have so many wonderful friends who are self-employed and being hit so hard by all these closures and cancellations, or stuck at home with their children, and relatives who are increasingly socially isolated, and my heart goes out to you all.

If you can, support your small local businesses, call your friends and families, and share the love (and soap and toilet roll).

When I’ll be back home seems even more uncertain now, but I’m looking forward to seeing everyone and visiting all my friends to buy the delicious food they produce, eat at their tables, and go to their gigs, workshops and classes as soon as I can.

Big love – X

Snapshots from Crossing the Atlantic

It’s now a week since we arrived here in Martinique. The solitude of the ocean passage seems like a distant memory. Irish John returned home to his farm near Cork only a couple of days after we arrived, and since then we have moved from the quiet anchorage into the busy marina to make the post-crossing repairs and re-provisioning easier.

In the evenings, we have been looking back at the photos of our trip and reminiscing. Soon I will leave the boat too. Gill and John will head south to find a safe haven from hurricanes and viruses, and I will head north, beginning a long journey back to the UK. More on that to come, but for now, some snapshots of life aboard the good ship Mehalah.

SAILING

Leaving La Palma marina behind
Letting out a reef at the end of a dawn watch
And putting one in as the sun sets again (a few days later, a couple of hundred miles further south and a good 10 degrees warmer)
Deciding where and when to gybe

WASHING

Takes up a surprising about of time, in both planning, preparation and execution…

The first wash – note the calm sea behind. Little did I know it would be many days before I could repeat.
And these were the seas that felt ‘calm’ enough to wash in, after the 3 metre waves that had come before
Doing laundry on the side deck
And drying behind the helm

SLEEPING

Sleep – to be grabbed at any opportunity and in any place

A quick nap before the next watch
The brace against the mast position
The knee-under-side-cushion wedge

BOAT MAINTENANCE

Sails to check, rigging to test, rattles to quieten, lee cloths to mend, Paul to oil…

Giving Paul his twice-weekly oil…
… Required some interesting positions
Filling water bottles – at least a two person job
Gill going beyond the call of duty to repair my torn lee cloth in particularly strong seas. That early in the passage and with such swell, spending much time upright and below deck was enough to make me feel queasy, so I would never have managed sewing whilst holding up a mattress with my head without a bucket nearby…

FISHING

Daily highlights – selecting a lure, deciding whether to keep it close to the boat or further away, watching the line, and finally… a fish! And a fishy supper to follow.

Will today be the day..?
Landing our first catch – mahi mahi
Fish’n’chips, Mehalah style
Our second catch – a much bigger mahi mahi which fed us for four meals. Thank you fish.
And of course the flying fish that flapped aboard during the night and were discovered on deck in the morning.

SWIMMING

One of my highlights – jumping into the ocean, 2 miles deep and 800 miles from the nearest land.

HOORAY!! Swimming at a leisurely pace to keep up with the boat being carried in the 1 knot of current.
Hoping for no sharks…

WILDLIFE

Talking of sharks… we also saw a breaching and blowing whale (alas, no photos), many pods of dolphins and plenty of birds, including a lost pigeon and a hitchhiking noddy.

Watching dolphins at the bow
Leaping through the waves

BRACING

Using every limb

The classic cockpit position
Two limb at a time yoga – the only time it was calm enough
The bunk-to-table brace – often adopted between preparing each ingredient for a meal to fend off queasiness

WEATHER

It’s not always blue skies and blue seas…

Sometimes, breakfast in the tropics looks like this (just after John commented that it was particularly peaceful, prompting a squall with gusts of 35 knots)…
And enough rain to make the sea splash back up into the sky and the two become one.
An early warning sign – squall rainbows

PARTIES

Any excuse – entering the tropics, changing timezone, passing halfway

Entering the tropics in our finest tropical gear
Party music for the tropical party
Rum and fresh fruit punch for breakfast (!) to toast passing halfway
With most of the rum generously offered to Neptune
And of course the arrival party – we made it!

ARRIVING

Such anticipation, excitement and relief (and exhaustion)

Dawn view of Martinique – land ahoy!
After dropping anchor in Sainte Anne
Time to call home after jumping overboard
First steps on land… will I have lost my land legs?!
And finally – why I love France and Martinique – pain au chocolat, croissants, baguettes and fresh orange juice delivered by dinghy to our boat the following morning

Atlantic Crossing – Day 24 – We have arrived!

Blogger: Mariel
Date: 5-Mar-2020
Location: At anchor in St Anne’s, Martinique!
Total to Date: 2948nm (0nm to go)
Final 22 Hour Run: 118nm

Wednesday 4th March, 18:52

The last sunset of the passage (unless something goes very wrong). This afternoon, I played my desert island discs through John D’s bluetooth speaker and explained my choices, which was far more emotional than I’d been expecting. (If you’ve joined this blog since we set off from Lanzarote, scroll back a month to see what my discs were and why I chose them). I only listened to them a few times on the passage, but they made me laugh, smile, tap my fingers and toes and weep on different occasions. I decided that the disc I would save from the waves was my brothers Alec and Tim with Alec’s Instructions for When Feeling Crap, for his wisdom and for all the memories that hearing them play and sing brings.

When the Desert Island Discs had finished, I spotted a vessel on the AIS – a Martinique fishing boat, and our first sign of the Caribbean.

The breeze is still very warm. We have shared our highlights and lowlights from the voyage, and our feelings regarding arrival. I am feeling EXCITED. This is way better than Christmas. We still don’t know when we will first see land, but we do know that it will be some time during the night, and that come morning, Martinique should be visible. Irish John says that he will row ashore, get on his hands and knees and kiss the sand, and I have to say I agree with him.

19:44

Crackle, crackle… the echo of a voice. What’s that…? The radio! The first noises from the outside world we have heard for three weeks. Gill and John laughed at me as I scrambled for the radio and picked it up to listen to. There was only really static, but I held it to my ear as if it were music. There is life out there, and it’s no longer so far away!

20:00

I have taken myself down to bed, even though I feel far too excited to sleep. I joked with Gill that I might leave one of the socks I stowed away as I prepared for landfall this afternoon at the end of my bed and see if there is one of the last 3 oranges in it come morning. More likely a shrivelled aubergine, or bit of ginger fallen from the net above my head.

My phone is no longer on airplane mode so I will know when we reach mobile signal – but do I want to know or would I rather not be distracted while we arrive, and only turn it on once we are there? I am so excited to be able to talk to the people I have missed so much, but have relished the lack of distraction and intrusion that the modern world pushes in.

Sleep, Mariel, sleep.

23:28 – nightwatch

The final nightwatch! Despite the excitement, I must have fallen asleep at some point because I was woken abruptly by my alarm at 22:40, thinking I might have overslept. It took a few bleary eyed moments to remember how close to land we were and wonder if there was any sign of it yet.

I lay there a few minutes, allowing myself to wake up slowly, before pulling on my shorts and tshirt and heading up into the cockpit. My handover from Irish John began a little differently to usual, with an update on our two new passengers – still present. Soon after 8pm, when IJ had stuck Bon Jovi in his ears and assumed his nightly starfish position (apparently to brace himself, although Gill and I suspect he might just be making the most of the space that we don’t have), JD had had a wash and was just getting into bed, and I had just closed my eyes, there came shrieks and flashing lights from the cockpit. IJ came stumbling out from the forepeak. Unable to distinguish any of Gill’s words, he thought perhaps there had been a gas explosion or something, but lying just below the open hatch, I could hear Gill shout “bird! bird!” and see it’s flapping wings above me.

In various stages of undress, the two John’s and I stuck our heads into the cockpit to look at the rather dishevelled-looking brown bird perched at the top of the steps – hello! what are you doing here?!

Photos were taken, and having determined that it wasn’t about to fly away again, clothes were put on and the bird book brought out. My best guess is a Brown Noddy, although it is a little hard to tell in the darkness. One of its webbed feet seems deformed, curled up and only half the size of the other.

IJ picked it up and put it on the cushion behind the helm, where it rocked back and forth with the motion of the boat. It reminded me of a tired child who refuses to admit it or go to bed, who sways back and forth in their chair before faceplanting into their dinner bowl. Excitement over, I returned to bed for attempt 2 at sleeping. With less than half an hour before he took over watch, IJ stayed up in the cockpit with Gill.

Minutes later, I was disturbed by more calls of “look at that bird!” and “is it coming in to land?!” I stuck my head up on deck again – sure enough, a second bird has come in to land, this time on the life buoy aft of the port solar panel, and is rocking in time with our buddy behind the helm.

We watch for a while, wondering if they’ll go to meet each other and why on earth they are here, but neither seem to move. I see another bird fly past and we have visions of arriving in Martinique a menagerie Dr Doolittle would be proud of, but this one keeps flying and I returned to bed – third time lucky, and I fell asleep.

And they are both still here, in the same positions. IJ reports that the bird at the helm has preened itself and stretched its wings for a couple of flaps and that he has mopped up a couple of white poos running down the cushion. I hear a quiet ‘peewee’ – he says they have chirped to each other a couple of times.

The rest of the handover continues as normal – 10-15 knots of wind from the East, down from 15-20. Running at around 5 knots, course 280 degrees. We are aiming for 264 and he gives Paul a tug to port to correct us. No further ships to report, nor voices on the radio.

No sign yet of the loom of Martinique or any flashes from the lighthouses, but we are still almost 50nm away.

I settle in to the nightwatch seat as IJ descends the steps. Gill gets up to plot our position again (this time on the chart of Martinique and Guadeloupe, rather than the chart covering the whole of the north atlantic), and IJ remarks that she is too excited to sleep. I call down that Santa won’t come if she doesn’t close her eyes.

The breeze is warm and I am still just in shorts and a tshirt. The thermometer read 30C at lunchtime.

I scan the horizon for lights – my eyes have been telling me there are specks on the horizon for a few nights now. The moon is reflecting off the sea in the west, exactly where we are heading and where we expect the first signs of Martinique to appear from, making it even harder to see. Orion shows faintly ahead of us, but the waxing gibbous (half moon) is too bright for most other stars to show. We have just passed 2900nm travelled since La Palma. We are at 14 degrees 30 North and 60 degrees 10 West – both the right degrees of Lat and Long for our destination. 43.6 nm to go. ETA 08.07. Gill is up plotting again. Our birds are still swaying. Back to scanning the horizon for me.

00:33

A flashing light, but this one is in the sky, passing through Orion’s legs – an airplane. From up there, they’d be able to see our tiny tricolour bobbing about in the sea, and the lights of Martinique in the same view.

This hasn’t always been an easy journey, but I’m much happier to be arriving by sail than by plane. 2903 miles down, 40.4 to go.

00:45

The faint glow behind me tells me that JD has just put the light on in the aft cabin and is getting ready to get up and relieve me of my watch. Still no sign of a loom or any lighthouses, or indeed any ships or other sailing vessels.

JD thought we’d see the first sailboat at 120nm, Gill 100nm. It’s now between Irish John and me at 30 and 20 nm respectively.

The two birds are still rocking gently behind me with their heads tucked beneath their wings. Almost time for me to return to my bunk and let the ocean rock me to sleep for the last time.

04:00

LAND AHOY!! Gill just called from the cockpit and I blearily pulled on my tshirt and stumbled up. G, J and J had all called a false alarm half an hour previously (it turned out to be a ship, not the lighthouse they had thought), which I hadn’t got up for, but this time it was just me who rose.

“What can you see, Gill?”
“I can see Martinique!”

I look out over the side – maybe a faint glow on the horizon. Gill put the binoculars into my hands – “Lights! Look!”

I raise them to my eyes, and sure enough, hundreds of lights glittering on the horizon. Land, at last. Gill hugs me. We have made it nearly 3000nm across an ocean and can see the small piece of land we have been aiming for all the way.

I look around. The bird is still behind the helm, and Gill says a third has landed on the starboard solar panel (where else?!) Still half asleep, I have come back down to my bunk for another precious couple of hours before dawn. 24 nm to go.

0708 (or 0608, Martinique time)

The sky is lightening, and Martinique is clearly visible, only a few miles away to starboard. We have counted the flashes of the lighthouse (4 every 15 seconds) and are heading south of it, around the corner into the anchorage. I was roused from my dosing at 5am by a ‘ping’, followed a few seconds later by a rapid burst ‘pingpingpingping’ from Irish John’s phone up in the cockpit as we re-entered the realm of modern technology. My phone took another hour and a half to show much or be able to send any messages home. There was little sleep to be had after land was sighted, and now we are all wide awake in the cockpit, mugs of tea in hand.

13:34 – at anchor in St Anne’s

We have arrived. Other than an engine that wouldn’t start the first few times, we had a very smooth and uneventful arrival into the anchorage. Anchor down at 08:30, 2 hours and 7 minutes earlier than the time predicted by JD 3 weeks ago. He was awarded a very well deserved bar of (his own) Green and Black’s chocolate as a prize. We spent a couple of hours bringing back lines, coiling them and stowing them below deck, and gazing around us in awe. We made it!! Messages and calls to friends and family, hard earned lie downs, and plenty to time staring down into the turquoise sea – at last, we can see the bottom! (Even though is it 7 metres down). We have been visited a couple of times by a large turtle, and shared a celebratory lunch of the very good champagne that IJ brought on board just before we left Lanzarote, and the cheese gifted to us by JJ – both delicious. Gill, IJ and I all jumped overboard and swam around the boat in the warm water, checking the anchor chain and looking for bumps and scrapes. The bump that IJ heard a couple of weeks ago seems to have left a small dent in the bow – wonder what it was?

Now JnG are having an afternoon nap, while IJ calls home from the bow. The dinghy has been launched and is ready to carry us ashore for a precious reunion with dry land and sundowners in an hour or so.

For now, we are all taking a little while for it to sink in. The boat is steady. Land is a mere couple of hundred meters away. We can relax at last.

Thank you so much to everybody who has followed us on our journey, prayed for our safe passage, wished us fair winds and left comments on the blogs. We never felt alone, and were buoyed by our daily emails from Jack, Emma and Jenny, containing messages from you all. Looking forward to catching up with everyone in due course.

With much love,

M, IJ, J and G

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.

Atlantic Crossing – Day 23

Blogger: Mariel and John
Date: 4-Mar-2020
Location: Closing on Martinique – it’s now REALLY close!
Total to Date: 2848nm (96nm to go)
24 Hour Run: 132nm

PART 1 – Mariel, 03.38am

Is this my last 3-5am nightwatch?? When I came on, there were less than 160nm to go, we are still making 5-6 knots in the right direction (at last!) and it said 1 day 11 hours til arrival – that would be 2pm Thursday! I have since done multiple calculations in my head (it’s catching) – if we were doing 4 knots, 5 knots, 6 knots,if we were blown off course etc etc, but Thursday still looks very promising – hooray!

So now I am looking out at the stars with a different perspective. This could be my last nightwatch with this many stars. Tomorrow I will be doing 11pm-1am and the moon will still be up, lighting the horizon as I scan for ships (still none to be seen), but masking all but the brightest stars.

I just saw a shooting star so bright that it left a trail across the sky. And another! A good sign, and my spirits are high.

PART 2 – John D, 14.32pm

So, here we are, probably the last post before we drop anchor. The final countdown, the last day of peace and tranquility. Current predictions are for arrival in St Anne’s, Martinique sometime tomorrow. Three weeks ago we each guessed when we would arrive. Gill and I both said tomorrow – me at 10.37, Gilly at 16.21. And we still have to factor in our final hour change. The winner will be the proud owner of a packet of haribos. Unfortunately they contain sugar so I won’t be eating them and Gill doesn’t like them.

Today has been much like yesterday. Good solid winds in the right direction, and an ETA growing ever closer, from yesterday’s Friday morning, to last night’s Thursday night, and now possibly even Thursday dawn – might we need to actually slow down to arrive in daylight?! Our daily mileages have returned to the 130s and several watches pass between pulling the course changing strings on Paul the Aries wind steering machine, voted for the second consecutive crossing the most useful item on the boat. Thoughts are turning to the general tidy up below, what can we do before we arrive, where will we be going for my joint arrival/birthday meal and of course who will be going where, when, once we do arrive?

More bird life today. The gannety thing we saw during our last crossing has been identified by Mariel as a masked booby – yesterday’s possible sighting was confirmed when another two flew around us this morning. Also a probable brown booby and a possible red footed booby (could have been a juvenile other booby though). IJ spotted another turtle drifting past though this time it was only a small one. This led to a discussion on how LITTLE wildlife we have actually seen. No close whale encounters, very few dolphins and not a lot of birds. Maybe it’s chance but I’m pretty sure we saw more creatures during the 2015 crossing. Or perhaps it’s to do with the fact that we had an extra seven days to spot things then!

Our (possibly) last lunch today consisted of yesterday’s freshly baked bread, cheese (still 9 packs in the fridge…!) and a fresh salad of cabbage, carrots (holding up remarkably well), avocados (‘ripened’ in IJ’s greenhouse in the cockpit, although turns out they were actually cooking), orange (only 3 left from the 80 we left La Palma with) and Gill’s carefully sprouted mung beans. We wondered how many boats arriving in the Caribbean are still eating fresh vegetables and not fighting over the last tin of baked beans. A very well done to Gill for the excellent provisioning.

That’s about it then. The last daily travel update. I’m afraid you’ll have to find something else to fill your breakfast/dinner/evening with. Thanks for all your messages over the past three weeks.

M, IJ, J and G

Use https://www.noforeignland.com/boat/4717902794063872 with SHOW JOURNEY to track our progress.