Through the Exumas

After a couple of nights rolling in West Bay, we grabbed an opportunity to move across to Highbourne Cay.  We were very fortunate in that we saw several squalls to the right and left of us but we had a great run straight through the middle, all under sail.

We dropped anchor just north of the entrance to the marina, just as the rain started.  We spent a comfortable couple of days here, and Moray managed to get some spearfishing in.  He brought back an amberjack which we had for dinner, but what he really wanted to get was a lobster!

The forecast was for the wind to clock round once again, so we decided to relocate to Lobster Cay.  After pulling up the anchor, we took a quick detour to Allen’s Cay to see the famous iguanas.  Last year, we had gone straight to Highbourne Cay and then south, so we had missed them.  The Cay itself was very pretty, and in different weather would have been a lovely place to spend a couple of days.  However, just as we got there, the rain started, and the iguanas took cover!  Ah well, we got a video so it’s all good!

Next we headed down to anchor at Lobster Cay.  Once Sol Purpose was secure, Moray headed off to do some spearfishing.  Lobster Cay lived up to its name, and a happy Moray came back with his first lobster of the season.  I had already started preparing dinner, so we put it in the freezer for another day.

We had planned to stay at Lobster Cay for a couple of days, before continuing south, but for the first time in a long time, we had desperate need for an internet connection.  We usually manage fine without one, but we had a Skype chat set up which we couldn’t miss, so after a safe but not too comfortable night, we headed back to Highbourne Cay and had our very important Skype call.

Now that everything is settled, I am able to put this in the blog!  We are well aware of how lucky we are to be able to live this life, so we had planned on doing volunteer work while on our travels.  It hasn’t been as easy as we thought to find the type of placement that we would both be happy doing, in a place we both want to visit, and without breaking our budget (who knew that “volunteering” could cost so much!).  After a lot of research, we found what we thought fit the bill perfectly, and applied – hence the “interview” on Skype.  Everything went well, so this summer, we will be helping out at Lanta Animal Welfare Center, in Koh Lanta, Thailand!  The center rescues, treats and finds homes for the stray dogs and cats on the island.  We will have a couple of weeks traveling around the country and then will be in Koh Lanta for almost three months.  We have rented a little apartment to stay in near the center.  I am so excited – both for the opportunity to visit Thailand for the first time (for me) and for the chance to spend some time with cats, as I am so missing having mine around.

OK, that will all be covered in a future blog entry, so let’s get back to the Bahamas!  When we woke up, the weather was perfect for a day of sailing with the Code 0, so we headed out for Normans Cay.  As soon as we unfurled the sail and switched off the engine, there was a knocking noise.  Moray investigated and figured out that it was the propeller.  It appeared that the cutlass bearing strut was a little loose, so rather than risk damage to the prop, we had to switch the motor back on and furl the Code 0.  Our lovely sailing window was a bust, but we motor sailed with the genoa, and arrived in good time at Normans Cay.  Instead of the anchorage we had used last year, we settled in near the beach on the West side of the island.  The water was quite shallow and perfectly clear, so as Moray dropped the mantus anchor, he was happy to see it disappear in a puff of sand!  There was no need to dive the anchor to check that it would hold, but as we were not too far off the beach, I jumped in and swam to shore and back.  Moray went snorkeling, tightened the cutlass bearing strut and saw a couple of eels, but not much else.

The next morning, we took the dinghy to the beach and walked around to the other side.  We wanted to see whether any progress had been made on the marina that was under construction when we were there before.  Basically, the answer is no!  There are now entrances cut through, but these are closed off as there is no infrastructure in the marina for the boats.  There is a new dock to tie off to, for large boats, which I assume stop to eat and drink at MacDuffs.  We had planned to revisit MacDuffs, as it was the first place we had had a Kalik in 2017, but after hearing that they have put the price up to $10 per beer, we decided to give it a miss!

After having another swim to the shore and back in the crystal clear water, we headed out towards Shroud Cay.  We planned to use the same anchorage as last year, in close to the entrance to the mangroves.  Unfortunately, we didn’t read the tide tables correctly, and were dangerously close to running aground, so we dropped the anchor where we were, and settled in for the night.  The next morning, as soon as the tide started to rise, we moved in to where we wanted to be and re-anchored.  That done, we had a leisurely breakfast, while we waited until it was almost high tide.  That is the only time it is possible to get the dinghy across a sandbar, into the mangroves, and then through to Camp Driftwood.  We had a fun half hour or so, playing in the cut, being swept into the beach, then running round and doing it all over again!  Once the tide turned, we jumped in the dinghy and took a gentle trip through the mangroves.  It was beautiful, but we only saw one turtle, which was a little disappointing.   We love this anchorage, because most people seem to stay at the other end of the island, on or near the mooring balls.  We could see their masts, but we were the only boat in our anchorage, and it almost feels like your own private island!

As soon as the tide was high enough the next morning, we made our way down to Warderick Wells.  We anchored and dinghied over to the park office, to make a reservation for a mooring ball for the following evening.  Then we went over to one of the snorkel sites and spent an hour or so with an eagle ray and a lemon shark, as well as all the usual suspects.  Spectacular!  We took a look at a couple of other sites, but there wasn’t much there, so we headed back to Sol Purpose.  Our boat was the only one on our side of the anchorage, so once again, we had peace and quiet for watching the sunset.

Next morning, we pulled up anchor bright and early to make it out through the cut to get to the south mooring filed at Hog Cay.  Once there, we radioed the park office to let her know which mooring ball we had picked up.  There appeared to have been some confusion the previous day when we made the reservation, as the ranger thought we had meant we wanted to be at Emerald Rock mooring field.  She told us that the Hog Cay mooring balls were no longer maintained, so she suggested that we dive the mooring just to be sure.  There is no anchoring allowed there because of potential damage to the rare stromatalite formations, so that would not be an option for us if the mooring didn’t hold.  Moray jumped in and took a look, and confirmed that everything looked fine, especially as the winds were not going to be strong that night.  Once secured, we headed over to Hog Cay to hike.  We beached the dinghy, found a spot with a lovely view out over the Sound, and ate a picnic lunch.  Then we donned our hiking boots and set off along the ironshore to walk the full length of the island.  First of all, we headed up to the northernmost tip, where there is a cairn.  In true Scottish tradition, Moray added a stone to the cairn!  We then headed along the trail towards the south.  The views were fantastic, and we even found a blow hole, which sounded just like an old man snoring (actually it was kind of creepy!).

We made it all the way to the southernmost tip of the island, before heading back.  Hog Cay is not very big, but the combination of the heat and the ironshore made it feel like quite a trek.

Back at Sol Purpose, we both jumped in for a swim to cool off.  Moray’s pet spotted eagle ray seemed to have followed us round from yesterday’s snorkel site, so he grabbed the GoPro and took a video.

Once again, we had the privilege of being the only people in the mooring field.  While we love being around people, the feeling of being the only people to experience a particularly wonderful sunset or sunrise is amazing!

The next morning saw us heading back to O’Brien’s Cay and the Sea Aquarium, which we had enjoyed so much the previous year.

From there, Moray snorkeled the sunken plane which would make a good dive site at slack tide due to the 2 deep channels that feed the area.  Quite good fish life because of this.

We snorkeled for an hour or so, then headed back to Sol Purpose.  Our run of bad luck was apparently not over – as Moray was pulling up to Sol Purpose, the bolt which allows our outboard motor to tilt, snapped.  So now we are without wind power, and possibly a means of getting to shore 😦  We pulled the dinghy and motor back out of the water and secured them, before pulling up anchor and heading to Pipe Cay, which is where we planned to ride out the next weather front.  We arrived just before sunset, and were surprised to see so few boats in such a protected anchorage.  During our trip, we heard several people calling the Exumas Land and Sea Park, so we assume that they filled up the moorings, rather than anchor.  Moray started work on seeing if he could fix the outboard.  Over the course of the three days that we were waiting out the weather front, he managed to unseize/drill out the rusted bolt and remove it.  He found a replacement part on eBay and ordered that, so that we could pick that up in George Town, along with the replacement wind generator parts.  He made a temporary fix, using 2 shorter bolts.  It’s not perfect, but it should work until we get the new part, if we are careful.

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Both ends of the sheared bolt seized in the outboard tilting mechanism

After three days of fixing motors, reading and generally relaxing, we grabbed a break in the weather and headed carefully through the shallows down to Staniel Cay.  We saw lots of boats anchored at Big Majors, but very few at Thunderball Grotto, which we prefer because it is so much closer to access shopping etc.  Especially with a dodgy outboard motor!  At last we were able to get rid of some bags of trash – the flies were beginning to arrive, which is never good!  We were excited at the thought of being able to grocery shop for the first time in over a month, which was our plan for the next day.  Not so fast!  As we got ready for bed, the toilet decided it no longer wanted to flush.  Not an acceptable situation in a house, but in a 40 foot boat with a not-so-reliable dinghy motor, definitely not acceptable!  So first thing the next morning, instead of our grocery run, Moray had to take the toilet and sanitation hose run apart, literally… so gross 😛  The blockage was found and cleared – that’s all the details needed!  Then, of course, showers!  You will be glad to know that we have no pictures of that 🙂

Finally, we went to shore and dropped off a month’s worth of laundry, including the “curry comforter” before heading to the grocery store.  While we have plenty of canned and frozen food, it was so nice to have fresh vegetables, milk and eggs!

That evening, we headed to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, to have a couple of beers and some conch/grouper appetizers.  We chatted with Mike and Sarah, and their guest Amy, from Intrepid.  We then all headed to Intrepid to play Mexican Train before we headed home.

The next day, we noticed another boat arrive, searching for a good spot to anchor.  The tide was on its way out, and pretty soon we realized that the new arrival was on the bottom.  Mike and Moray went over in their dinghies to try to help out, but the boat wouldn’t budge.  As the boat was beginning to heel more and more, the crew, along with Mike and Moray, decided to go snorkeling until the tide lifted her enough to move.  It worked out perfectly – they were all happy to snorkel, I got to sunbathe on the boat, and the “little red boat” was eventually moved somewhere deeper.

Our next stop was to be Little Farmers Cay for the 5F’s weekend.   We decided to drop the hydro-generator in the water, before pulling the dinghy into the davits.  With that running, and the solar panels, we were able to run the watermaker en route, even though we were sailing!  I also thought it would be a good day to practice manual steering under sail, so that we wouldn’t need the autopilot.  I had a few blips, but for the most part, I kept us going in the right direction!  There weren’t as many boats as we had been expecting, so we had our pick of anchoring spots.  That night we went to Ty’s for dinner.  There we met Greg and Jodi, from Moon Pie.  They are first year cruisers and seem to be having a wonderful time.  They are taking their time and checking out all the secluded spots that we love too!

Now that we were out of the Land and Sea Park, Moray wanted to do some fishing, but the current was too strong.  We watched the cruiser’s race, while other boats arrived and anchored, among them Intrepid and “little red boat”, which we soon learned is actually called Quintessence!  Around 4pm, we headed over to the yacht club for the cruisers’ welcome party.  We met up again with Bill & Gayle and Mike and Sarah, and were introduced to Ben and Kristine from Quintessence.  It was a fun evening, but ended on a slightly sour note for me.  Flip flops and walking on gravel in the dark don’t make for a good outcome.  I turned my ankle badly so we had to make our way slowly back to the dinghy.  We hadn’t made a good job of beaching the dinghy, so poor Moray had to swim out to get it!  Ah well, we eventually made it home safely.

I woke the next morning to a bruised, swollen, painful ankle, so sat with it up on a pile of cushions while we watched the set up for the racing.  Then we headed out in the dinghy and rafted up alongside Intrepid and Quintessence’s dinghies to watch the races.

The next day, the gang (Mike, Ben and Moray) went spearfishing and came back with a lionfish (for Mike) and a lobster (for Ben).  I had just put some fresh biscuits in the oven when Ben called and invited everyone over to share the lobster and some fish he had caught previously.  He grilled up the fish, and the other two boats provided salads and biscuits.  It was delicious – we are definitely living the life!

The regatta finished on Saturday, but we stuck around on Sunday, because Ty’s Bar & Grill throws a great Superbowl party, which of course we attended!

The partying over, it was now time to get down to some serious sailing/fishing!  We headed down to Musha Cay, followed closely by Intrepid, Quintessence and Catsaway.  We dropped anchor in Musha Cay, right in front of the beach.  The water was so clear and calm, I dropped in for a swim, to try to relieve my sore ankle a little, before we all dinghied round to the next island, where Sarah and I sat on the beach, while the others went snorkeling/spearfishing.  Moray had a battle of wills with a lobster, but the lobster won, I’m afraid.

By this time, Moray was getting a little frustrated at his lack of success with spearfishing this year.  He decided to get up just before dawn, and head back round to the little island to try his hand again.  After an hour or so, he came back with a good sized lobster, and a lionfish, which he took over to Mike.  [Morays Notes:  I had got in the water just before the sun came up and swam with 4 spotted eagle rays, 2 reef sharks, 2 turtles and a nurse shark.  It was fantastic :)].  They all then decided to go fishing so he went out with them again.  I wasn’t there, so this is all third-hand, but my understanding is that he got two more lobster and then went back in, a little way away from the others.  They were alerted by him yelling “I need a boat over here, now!”  They rushed over to him and he lifted the pole spear, which was bending like a fishing rod, out of the water with a huge hogfish on it.  The reason for the urgency, apart from the fact that it was heavy and he didn’t want to lose it, was the fact that a curious shark was slowly making its way towards him!  Fish and hunter both made it into the boat safely, and an absolutely beaming Moray presented me with the 10lb fish!

The next morning, the other boats decided to head to Rudder Cut Cay, to snorkel the Mermaid statue.  We decided to give that a miss and instead took a quick run down to Lee Stocking Island.  We had missed this spot last year, so we wanted to get there this time.  There were already quite a few boats there, but we found a spot and got settled.  Moray went to look for good snorkeling spots, but found the current to be too strong.  Lee Stocking Island used to be the home of the Perry Institute for Marine Science, but it abruptly closed down a few years ago and the island is now deserted.  There is some talk that it has been purchased and will be developed into an eco-resort, but we didn’t see much evidence of that as yet!  I strapped up my ankle in walking boots – what a great look in hot weather! – and we took a walk round the island.  It is like a ghost town, with the buildings all still there but completely empty.  There are pools for the fish research, and pens for animals, but all abandoned.  We walked along a couple of beautiful beaches, and then down the runway, before heading back to the boat.

There was now yet another weather front approaching.  There were a couple more places we wanted to see, but the winds would make these uncomfortable at the very least, so we decided to head straight to Georgetown.  We could be safe there, get some provisions and maybe even pick up the spare parts we had ordered.  We picked up the anchor and started heading towards the cut, but realized that our timing wasn’t great and that it was a bad time to try to go through.  So we went back, dropped anchor for a couple of hours and waited for the tide to turn, before making another attempt.  This time it was fine, and we had a great sail down to Georgetown.  We dropped anchor just in front of Chat ‘n Chill, next to – would you believe it – Intrepid and Quintessence!

Georgetown is summer camp for adults!  Every morning there is yoga and aquarobics, every afternoon there is volleyball, and there are always people around to chat to or to help when needed.  Of course, our spare parts haven’t yet arrived so while we are here we will be spending our days chilling, Moray playing volleyball, me chatting with other people on the beach.  My ankle is still bothering me, so it’s also a good opportunity to just nurse it, so that later in the trip, I will be able to dive.  One thing we do a lot of in Georgetown is socialize.  With all the lobster Moray had caught while fishing with the other guys, I made Thai lobster curry for dinner for Intrepid, Quintessence and Duchess.  We managed to get 8 people around our table!  It was a fun evening, and thanks to Mike, Sarah, Ben, Kristine, Joyce and Matt for not only helping to catch the lobster but for enjoying it with us.

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from left to right, Sarah, Mike, Kristine, Ben, Me, Moray, Matt and Joyce

After several phone calls and emails with DHL, our wind generator parts arrived in Georgetown.  It was also the day that the propane guy was in town.  So we moved Sol Purpose across the harbour to town, and Moray headed in to get, propane, gas/petrol for the dinghy and the wind generator parts.  He managed to get the petrol and the parts, but unfortunately, it appears that the o-ring in our propane tank had worn through, making it impossible to fill.  Ah well, that’s why we have two!

We took Sol Purpose back over to Chat ‘n Chill and were able to tuck into a little spot, much closer to the beach.  That was great as it made for a much smoother night.  Another reason for a much better night was that Moray fitted the replacement parts and now we could use the wind to charge the batteries.  Yay!

We had missed a few islands on the way down to Georgetown, so we decided to head back north for a few days.  After a spirited sail, we dropped anchor at Black Cay, near the north end of Great Exuma.  This is an uninhabited island, with a couple of beautiful beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and very few other boats!  After the hustle and bustle of Georgetown, it was nice to chill out for a few days.  Moray settled into his routine of heading out at slack tide to spearfish, while I read.  We also took advantage of the lack of dinghies heading back and forth to swim, which was wonderful.

Moray was not having much luck getting fish or lobster, and felt that he was failing in his role as hunter-gatherer!  So he decided to try to get a coconut instead.  As you can see from the video, it’s just as well that there are grocery stores in Georgetown!!!

On Saturday, we took the dinghy to White Cay, to visit the swimming pigs that live there.  They are very tame, as they are fed by all the visitors, but that meant they are quite happy to search around inside your dinghy for food!  Moray managed to get some great pictures of the piglets though.

From there, we headed across to Exuma Point on Great Exuma.  Every Saturday, they have an all-you-can-eat buffet, with cracked conch, grouper fingers, chicken wings, ribs etc. etc.  They even have their own version of Mack (for our Waterford friends).

The weather forecast once again gave us a little cause for concern, so we headed back to Georgetown and managed to tuck close in to Chat ‘n Chill again.  Moray got back into the routine of afternoon volleyball, and I relaxed on board or on the beach.

We went to trivia night at St Francis (our first time there) and along with Bruce & Kay from Laura Belle, won second place – bottle of wine per boat.

The winds started to pick up yesterday, and we had some fun and games in the harbour.  One catamaran had been moved a couple of days earlier from anchor to a mooring ball, as the owners had flown home for a short visit.  Around midday, we heard a call go out for assistance.  The mooring ball had snapped from it’s base and the catamaran had taken off on its own.  Moray jumped in the dinghy and headed towards it, as we were very close.  He and about 11 others first of all had to get on to the cat to disentangle it from another boat, which it was now dragging along for the ride.  Then they had to figure out the anchor locker etc and get the anchor down and secure.  As they had to do all this manually, it took a couple of attempts, but eventually, everything was secured.  Quite a lot of excitement, but it shows once again, what a great community this is.  The weather wasn’t brilliant, and the situation could have been dangerous, but they worked together and kept all people and boats safe.  Well done, guys!

This morning we braved the choppy waters to head over to Georgetown, so that Moray could go to the softball practice, and I could get off the boat for a little while.  I even got to go to a grocery store!  The supply boat arrived this morning, so we were a bit early for the fresh vegetables, but we got everything else we wanted.

The winds are once again not co-operating with our plans, so we are just taking it one day at a time right now.  I’m not sure when we will be moving so I will sign off for now and say, watch this space!


Southward Bound Again

So at last the day had come! On Saturday, December 16th, we wrapped up in thermal clothing, waved goodbye to Bob and Clare, and departed New Bern. We had done our last grocery shop and had just about enough beer 🙂

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We were very lucky in our choice of departure date, because the tides and currents were with us all the way to Morehead City, and we saw speeds up to 8 knots! That gave us plenty of daylight to get out through the Beaufort Inlet before starting our offshore passage. The seas were calm, and we had a peaceful, uneventful trip, motoring all the way but at least making progress South.

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hard to believe this was 30 miles offshore in the Atlantic

We were once again joined by a pod of dolphins for part of the trip…

Our timing was perfect and on the morning of Tuesday, December 19th, we arrived at St Augustine, Florida with a high tide and just as the bridge was opening. Perfect! We tied off to a mooring ball, checked in and headed straight for a well earned hot shower! Then we made the trek across the bridge to a dive store to get our scuba tanks inspected and filled, ready for the Bahamas. We wrapped up the day with a walk around the city, dinner and drinks in a couple of the many bars!

St. Augustine proved to be the perfect place to spend Christmas. There is a very active boating community in St. Augustine and there were plenty of events scheduled. We went to the Wednesday night gathering at Ann O’Malleys, where there was pizza, cheap beer and a White Elephant Christmas gift exchange, which was a lot of fun!

While we were in St. Augustine, we tried to visit as many of the sights as possible. We walked down to, the Fort (Castillo de San Marcos), the Fountain of Youth and the Old Town, which were all very interesting but a bit Disney-esque.

We thoroughly enjoyed the Visitor Center, which is more like a museum telling the story of the city. It’s well worth a visit. Another day, we visited the Flagler College and took a tour. The college was originally a hotel called the Ponce de Leon Hotel, built by Henry Flagler, the railway tycoon, in 1888 to house his wealthy friends when they spent the season in Florida. He charged by the season and it cost $4,000 for the winter season whether you stayed the whole time or a weekend. The windows and chandeliers are all by Tiffany and are stunning. The building is now a hall of residence for freshman college students – wow! Liverpool University was great but had nothing on that!

At the boaters’ happy hour, the night before, we met several great people, in particular, Charles and Rachel, who, via FB, had been helpful when Moray was asking for suggestions on places to spend Christmas. During our conversation, we discovered a mutual love of sushi, so on Thursday night, they very kindly picked us up and drove us to a fantastic sushi restaurant called Corner Sushi. We had a great meal and even better conversation, before they drove us back to the marina.

On Christmas Eve, Charles texted us and invited us over for Christmas Eve dinner! It was wonderful! We met Rachel’s family which was great, before eating fresh made seafood chowder (by Charles) and bread (by Rachel). It was so lovely to be included in a family Christmas and reminds us once again that there are amazingly kind people in this world.

We had a quiet Christmas Day on board. It was a lovely, relaxed day. We made calls to our families, opened presents all day, played cards and even had turkey, roast potatoes and brussel sprouts! Yes, it is possible to cook a Christmas Dinner in a tiny boat galley!

On Boxing Day it was time to leave. First of all, at peak travel season, the marina limits transient boats to a seven day stay, and second, the weather was perfect for the next leg of the journey south. Moray made one last run into the city to pick up packages from the Post Office, before we released the mooring ball and headed back through the St. Augustine Inlet, before turning south toward Fort Lauderdale. The weather was great so we got to sail, most of the way. The evening of the second day saw a few storms, so we motored the rest of the way, arriving at the Port Everglades Inlet at daybreak. Once under the bridge, we pulled into the Fort Lauderdale fuel dock to refuel. Another sailboat pulled around us and tried to dock in front of us, managing to hit us in the process. Luckily no damage was done to Sol Purpose, but an apology was not offered, which left a nasty taste. Anyway, once refueled, we headed a little farther north into Lake Sylvia. We had spent a night in this anchorage on last year’s trip down, along with Charlie and Bob. We got there to find that there was plenty of room, so we anchored and settled in to wait for a weather window to cross over to the Bahamas. The anchorage is surrounded by high end houses which make for a nice backdrop at night.

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Gas lighting in one of the waterside house gardens

Last year, we had only stayed for one day, so we hadn’t gone ashore. This time, we put the dinghy in the water, crossed over the ICW (now that can be a scary trip in Fort Lauderdale!) and went to the Southport Raw Bar. They have a dinghy dock, which costs $10 per day. However, if you spend $10 in the restaurant/bar, the fee is waived so thats what we did. After appetizers and beers, I went grocery shopping, while Moray walked to West Marine to try to get some engine oil. He didn’t succeed in that, but the grocery shopping was successful!

We had hoped to get over to the Bahamas by New Year, so that we could experience Junkanoo, but the weather showed no signs of co-operating. So we did a little research and found that downtown Fort Lauderdale was having a New Year’s Eve celebration, with free live music, street bars and food vendors, and at midnight, an anchor drop. It was about an hour’s walk, but that’s fine. So we dinghied over to the Southport Raw Bar, had the obligatory $10-worth of beer and snacks, before setting out towards town. The walk wasn’t bad at all, and once we arrived, we were very impressed. The downtown area had been closed to traffic and there was a stage with live music at each end. The music was great, and there were plenty of eateries and bars, although we had taken a cooler full of beer with us! We had a fantastic evening there, culminating with the anchor drop, which was fun. The evening wasn’t over, though, as the bands played for another hour, so we stayed until they stopped and then started the walk back. Funny, it seemed much further…. Anyway, we got back to the dinghy, across the ICW and home to Sol Purpose safe and sound, around 3am! Not bad for two old fogies, huh!

The festivities over, now it was just a waiting game. The weather has been crazy all over the world this winter, and Florida and the Bahamas are not exceptions. A couple of times we got ready to leave, only to find the morning of departure that the forecast had changed completely, so the trip was aborted. It did give us an opportunity to take the longest city bus ride ever, to get to a movie theater to see The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman. I’d highly recommend the movie, but possibly not the 2 hour each way journey! We went out for another night and met Liz and Mary Ann. They were later met by Mary Ann’s husband who gave us great advise on restaurants and so we had one more night of Sushi before we left the US 🙂

Finally, on Tuesday, January 10th, we decided that the forecast was not perfect, but good enough, so we headed out. When we actually pulled up the anchor, it was pouring with rain, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking we were mad! However, as soon as we got out through the Port Everglades channel, the weather cleared up, and we had a great day, even though we were motoring. We seemed to pass between all the squalls, and arrived in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands, almost exactly 24 hours after we set out. The marina allows boats to pull into a slip, free of charge, in order to complete the customs and immigration procedures. They drove Moray to the airport to get all of that taken care of, while I had to wait on board. Although he had to wait a little while, because a couple of planes arrived while he was there, it was all painless, and he was soon back on board, with stamped passports, a fishing permit and cruising permit for 6 months. We left the marina and headed back outside the harbour to anchor.

We had planned to spend some time in the Berry Islands, as we had heard how beautiful they are. Unfortunately, the crazy weather patterns continued, meaning that there would be north winds. Unless you go to a marina (which we neither want to do, nor can really afford), there is nowhere that offers much protection in those conditions. So after spending a couple of nights anchored outside the marina on the west side of the island, we took a short trip round the top of the island, to an anchorage on the east side. The plan was spend a day or two there, then start heading down the chain, tucking in wherever we could, all while keeping an eye on the weather.

Now there is a belief that you can get away with breaking one or even two rules, but break three and disaster will happen. So what three did we break, I hear you ask! Well first of all, don’t be lulled by the conditions where you are – the seas were flat calm in our anchorage, but as we were to discover, not on the other side of the island. Second, ALWAYS stow EVERYTHING – don’t get complacent and think, it’s so calm nothing will fall. And third, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, bring glass on board. We had made it round the top of the island, almost to the anchorage. The waves had been higher than we anticipated, but we could see that they were much better in the anchorage. Unfortunately, as we turned to head in, we were caught broadsides by a big wave. There was a loud crash as everything on the port side of the boat made a break for the starboard side. Most things were OK, but we had a couple of jars of curry sauce in a cupboard that wasn’t locked…. Oh the mess! I have no idea how the red curry sauce could get so far, in so many different directions! It was all over the floor, the doors, in the bathroom, but worst of all – the bed. Just to complete the meal, a bag of rice fell out of the cupboard, opened up and spilled all over the bed, mixing with shards of glass from the jar. We should have taken pictures, but just take our word for it – it was a disgusting mess. The only saving grace was that it was a Balti sauce, and not my favourite, korma!

Mess all cleared up, we decided to go to the Beach Club ashore and get a drink, followed by dinner at the Friday night Grill and Chill at the marina. We looked up exactly where the Beach Club was, only to discover that it closes at 4pm – and it was 3:45pm. Could this day get any worse? Well, we took the dinghy to the beach, along with our trash, and started the 2 mile walk to the marina. About halfway, as we turned on to the marina road, the heavens opened. Luckily, a great couple, Shakira and Herbie, stopped and gave us a ride, trash and all, down to the marina. They were going to be coming to the Grill and Chill later, and said they would give us a ride back to the beach. We got out at the marina, dropped off the trash, and went to found out about the Grill and Chill. What a day – because of the rain, they weren’t going to hold it that day. When we asked where the nearest bar was, we discovered it was in Bullocks Harbor, about another mile away. With the rain pouring down and not showing any sign of stopping, we decided to just make our soggy way back to the Beach Bar, down to the dinghy and back to Sol Purpose. As we approached the Beach Bar, we could see that there were lights on and people there. It turns out that part of the week, they only serve breakfast and lunch, but at the weekends they also serve dinner 🙂 Yay! We tucked into grilled pork chops (me) and blackened hog snapper (Moray), accompanied by the first Kaliks of the trip. It turned out to be a great day after all!

After the early morning ritual of listening to Chris Parker, reading our other weather forecasting websites and looking around, we decided that the best course of action was to reluctantly say goodbye to the Berry Islands and head straight down to West Bay, on New Providence. We had a great trip, making a tankful of water as the motor was running, and enjoying the sunshine. Moray threw out a line and about 2 miles outside the anchorage, he finally got a bite. It must have been a big fish, because not only did it get off the line, it took half the lure with it. Ah well. We came into the anchorage, dropped the anchor and backed down on it for a while. We remember only too well the incident with Debbie, Sue and Stout Wench last year, and dragging is not an option! The wind picked up shortly after sunset, which although it made for a rolly night, provided us with enough electricity to watch the rest of the first season of This is Us. (We are so far behind in our viewing!)

So, while it hasn’t been the season we envisioned so far, we had a wonderful Christmas, with new friends, a great New Year’s Eve, and are sitting in the Bahamas, with adult beverages, watching TV. Life is good.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Back across the pond

We spent the last couple of weeks in the UK relaxing and preparing for our return to Sol Purpose.  We got most of our UK Christmas gifts bought, wrapped and mailed off (so organised!), and I made a few more Christmas items for the upcoming craft fair.  We contacted the marina to see where things stood with the repairs and booked in for the remaining work that needed to be done (more of that later).

One thing we had planned to do in Bristol was try one of the many Escape Rooms that have sprung up recently.  The one we selected was Puzzlair.  We chose the Secret Agent Room, which as you can guess is a James Bond themed room.  There were a lot more puzzles to solve and some were a lot more devious than the ones we had experienced in the New Bern Escape Room.  Added to that, this time it was just the two of us, rather than 6 people.  We needed to get a few clues, but we made it out within the hour!  Next time we go, we want to get a group together and try to break out of the prison van (take a look at the website!).

The next week we went to the Concorde exhibit at the Bristol Aerospace Museum.  Concorde was designed and built between France and the UK and the last concorde to fly is on display here.  It was great to walk through the plane and learn details about the ridiculous design and build costs that were incurred.  That was only eclipsed by the amazing details of the planes engineering and performance.

We also had a great night catching up with Sue & Dave Harding and Debbie Haynes.  I worked with Sue and Debbie many years ago, before I left for the USA.  It was a great trip down memory lane!  See you next time I’m back!

We rounded off the 4 month trip just as we started it, with an evening at Avery’s, tasting wine and watching a classic movie – this time, a Cary Grant classic, Arsenic and Old Lace.  Cary Grant, then known as Archibald Leach, was born in Bristol and is one of the city’s favorite sons.

On Tuesday, October 31st, at the totally unacceptable hour of 4am, we headed to Bristol Airport to start the mammoth trip back to Sol Purpose.  Flight 1 was to Brussels, then Flight 2 to Newark.  That was all fairly uneventful and we arrived in New Jersey at around 2:30pm.  We picked up a rental car and headed for North Carolina.  Moray was a trooper and drove the first 6 hours, so that I could grab some sleep.  Then I took over for the last part of the journey.  Given that it was halloween, we looked out for ghosties and beasties all the way back, but all we saw were several deer, just as we approached Wayfarers Cove Marina.  We pulled into the marina at around 1am, climbed up a ladder into the boat, and crashed in the rear quarter berth for a few hours sleep.

Jet lagged, but needing to get on, we realised the holiday was over!  Before Sol Purpose could be put back into the water, the propshaft drip seal needed to be replaced.  We had started on this task before we left, but had been unable to complete it.  The boatyard guys had worked on removing the old seal while we were away, but we needed to replace the seal ourselves.  After a couple of hours of Moray working from inside the tiny engine room space, while I stood outside under the boat, we got it done.

While Moray was working on various little tasks, I moved some things around so that I could unpack and put our bags back into the storage below our bed.  That meant I had enough room to move other items to the rear quarter berth, and make up our bed.

One of the problems of being on  boat that is out of the water is that there .is no a/c which makes cooking on board almost unbearable.  Added to that, the fact that we had not yet replaced the water tank, so we had no water for cooking, and couldn’t drain water out into the boatyard, meant that meals would be sandwiches or takeout.  Wayfarers Cove Marina, while very pretty and with an excellent boatyard, is literally miles from anywhere, making takeout totally impractical.  Luckily, Gail and Bill on Spireserpula, who we had met in the Bahamas, were also out of the water in the boatyard, and had found some restaurants.  We thankfully joined them for dinner and enjoyed catching up with their adventures over the summer.  Then we headed back to the marina and up to the boaters’ lounge to watch game 7 of the World Series.  Woohoo!  Finally!  The Astros did it!!!!!  Very tired, but elated, we headed back to the boat and spent the first night in our own bed in over 4 months!

The only thing left to do before putting Sol Purpose back where she belongs was to finish the bottom paint job.  The boatyard had done most of this just before we came back, but the last part – painting the patches where the stands had been – is done once the boat is back in the sling.  The original plan was to do this on Thursday, but the boatyard is a very busy one, and when we realised that they weren’t going to get to us that day, we did the only thing we could – we got in the car and drove to New Bern to go to Duelling Pianos at Circa 1810, with Bob and Claire!

The revised plan was to get back in the water on Friday, but unfortunately, the boat lift broke that morning.  By the time the repair was done, it was too late to get the painting done and dried, so we resigned ourselves to waiting until Monday.  This was very frustrating as we had planned to spend the weekend installing the new tanks and getting the subfloor replaced, once back in the water.

On Saturday morning, we noticed that there was a gantry not being used in the boatyard.  We put it up against the side of the boat and figured that we should be able to lift the tanks up to the two platforms and then into the boat.  I was not too keen on this, but we pressed on and managed to get the new diesel tank on board and into place relatively simply.  Inspired by that, we moved on to the water tank and got it into place.  That meant that Moray was able to plumb everything in, while I drove to Oriental to fill the jerry cans with diesel.  I made one run, and we emptied the cans into the new tank, with fingers crossed that nothing leaked.  Everything was great, so I headed back and refilled all the jerry cans.  While I was away, Moray closed up the inspection hatch on the fuel tank, which we had left open during the first fill so we could see that everything was working properly.  We started to pour the next can in, when suddenly Moray yelled for cloths etc.  Diesel was not going into the tank, but down the side of the boat.  After a few minutes of panic, he figured that the only difference was that the inspection hatch was now closed, so the problem must be the tank vent.  He reopened the hatch and the problem was resolved.  On further investigation, he discovered that the tank vent had become clogged by a mud dauber, a wasp that builds its nest using mud.  It had got into the thru hull vent during the summer and done its thing!  Once that was cleared out, the problem was completely resolved.

Next, Moray reconnected the water tank and water maker, before working on the final fitting of the plywood subfloor.  It took a few lifts in and out, with a little sanding each time, but eventually it fit perfectly.  This made walking around the boat so much easier!

Monday came, and I headed off to the boaters’ lounge to watch TV and knit, as I would not be able to be on board when they lifted the boat.  At around 3:30pm, the paint was dry and the time had come!  Slowly, Sol Purpose was lowered into the water, the motor started and we made our way round to a slip.  We were finally back in the water!

The only task left to be done while in Wayfarers Cove was to replace the teak and holly veneer.  As this needed to be matched up to the veneer in the forward cabin and galley, we hired a professional, Rick Vogt.  He was great and gave us lots of advice for refinishing the existing veneer, which we planned to do ourselves.  He was held up by the weather to begin with as it rained for a couple of days, making it impossible for him to bring the veneer to the boat.  Once it stopped, though, he got the veneer measured, cut and into the boat as quickly as possible.  I have to say, it looked amazing, which showed just how bad the rest was!

During the work with Rick we got a message from Ron and Karen, two friends who stayed on the same dock as us in Kemah.  They left to go cruising three years ago and were heading back down the ICW towards Florida in their Benetau, Polite Compromise.  They found out where we were and turned up at Wayfarers the next day.  We went out for dinner that night and went to Duelling Pianos the following night with Bob and Clare.


Moray, Bob, Ron, Debs, Clare and Karen.  Texas cruising chapter

That Saturday we took our rental car and drove to Washington (NC) to meet Al, a cruiser friend we had met last winter in the Bahamas.  He was on the hard in New Bern working on his boat, Stout Wench, before heading South to the Bahamas again.

On Wednesday, with our fingers crossed, I helped Moray cast off and leave the slip, to single-hand the boat to New Bern.  Once he left, I drove to the airport at New Bern and turned in the car.  Claire picked me up and took me back to New Bern Grand Marina, where we waited for Moray to arrive.  His journey up was thankfully uneventful.  He switched between the two tanks with no issue, so that was great!  Having the increased fuel capacity of the boat, from 60 gallons to 140 gallons, is going to make our future cruising plans so much easier.  If you are interested in the full details of the tank project see the following blogs…

Sol Purpose has no Sole (part one)

Putting the Sole back into Sol Purpose (part 2)

Thursday morning, Moray headed up to the boaters’ lounge to do some last minute study for his FCC Technicians exam.  I started work on removing the varnish from the teak and holly veneer in the forward cabin and the hatch covers.  After a few hours, I cleaned everything up and prepared for Moray’s birthday celebration.  Bob and Claire came over for a light meal and a cocktail.  Then we headed to the Bear Town Escape Room where we escaped from Poe’s Study.  That was a lot of fun, and we got out with 14 minutes to spare.  From there, we went for a meal and then for a few drinks at Prohibition, our favourite bar in New Bern.  It was a great evening, and I think the birthday boy enjoyed himself.

It was back to reality the next day, with Moray spending one last day studying and doing practice exams, while I removed more varnish, this time from the galley floor.  On Saturday morning, Moray headed off to Morehead City to sit his exam, which I am very happy to announce, he passed!  He is now able to broadcast on the SSB, another big step needed for our trans-Atlantic crossing.

By the end of the day, the floors were clear of the old varnish, and had been treated to remove as many of the water stains as possible.  They would have to sit for a couple of days to dry out properly, before we would be able to start on the re-varnishing. We were trying to figure out how to do this, while living on the boat, as we wouldn’t be able to walk on the floors for several hours each day.  Moray contacted Tom and Joy, and they kindly agreed to let us stay on their boat, Belle Ile, which is in the same marina, up for sale.  This was an absolute godsend, and we can’t thank them enough for their generosity.

Over the next week, we sanded and applied a coat of varnish each day, before heading over to Belle Ile each night to sleep.  As cooking wasn’t an option, we made the most of a number of the eateries in town, apart from Thanksgiving.  Beth, from Happy Girl, organized a Thanksgiving Dinner for the marina, and about 30 people attended.  Bob and Clare joined us for the dinner and then a few hardy souls braved the chilly weather to sit around a fire pit, drinking beers and getting to know each other’s sailing past.  It was a lot of fun!

The enforced exile from the boat gave us a good excuse to walk up into town and look at the Christmas decorations, especially the Santa’s grotto, with falling snow!  It was magical!

Once the 8 coats of varnish were applied and dried, we were able to empty out the storage unit and put our home back together.  There’s nothing like sitting on your own sofa, watching TV!  That done, we set to finishing off a few tasks, such as repairing some broken zippers on the enclosure, and replacing the rusted out clips on the dinghy straps.  Moray cleaned up the dinghy and attached some patches to protect the sides from chafing on the davits, while I made a cover to protect the gas can from the elements.

All this time, we were watching the weather and were excited to be getting ready to leave around December 7th, the same time as last year.  Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas and as the leaving date approached, the weather window disappeared.  Oh the joys of sailing – never make plans!  Resigned to the fact that our departure would be delayed, we put together some alternative routes and started looking forward to those.  But now, it has been raining for the last few days, and we have both had colds, so we’ve had an enforced stay inside the boat.  It’s actually been nice – watching TV (both of us) and knitting (just me!).  Oh, and of course, watching our friends’ posts about the snow in Houston!

Our current hope is to star tour southward trip in two days – fingers crossed!

Putting the Sole back into Sol Purpose (part 2)

If you remember, the first part of the project ended with the fittings being bought for the new tanks including a fuel supply and return selector switch.  The idea was that we could draw fuel from either tank and return excess fuel to either tank as well.

Our first few days back from the UK were spent doing odd jobs to get the boat back in the water.  Unfortunately, as the travel lift was out of operation for 3 days when we were due to get put back in the water, we had to install both the new tanks while on the hard.  This meant Debbie and I used a gantry to lift the tanks the 9 feet from the ground over the lifelines and down into the boat 😦

The tanks were a tight fit through the companionway and a perfect fit into the existing spaces vacated by the old tanks.  First in was the diesel tank.  We placed a strap under the tank before we dropped it in so that we could still remove it if required during the installation phase

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I had already plumbed in the 2 three-way valves for the pick-up and return lines for the fuel tanks.  I placed these under the inspection hatch for the original fuel tank and simply tied into the pick-up and return lines from the old tank.  This simplified the plumbing and still had all fuel going through the existing filtration system.

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pick-up valve is on the left.  Return valve is on the right.

This plumbing was then attached to the new tank.  The diesel vent was tied into the existing vent in the engine room roof to ensure that there could be no crossover of fuel between tanks in a seaway.  Several years ago I removed a 15 gallon holding tank from under the starboard settee as we plumbed the aft head directly overboard.  I used the old deck fitting for the new diesel tank fill.

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Next was the water tank.  As it was a straight swap with regards to fittings so there was less to do there.

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Once both tanks were in, I sprayed insulation foam around each corner to hold the tanks firmly in place.  Then it was time to replace the struts that ran over the tanks to add support to the floor.  These were made from Douglas fir as it’s a wood with good rigidity.  The trim to support the new subfloor around its edges was then epoxied and screwed in place.

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struts and trim epoxied and screwed in place

I measured the position of the fittings in the new tanks, fore and aft, and marked those locations on the starboard settee front so that once the new subfloor was laid down I could mark those positions on the top of the floor for the inspection hatches.  As I was using the original inspection hatches for the new sole, the position of the hatches athwartships was restricted by the teak and holly pattern that would be on the new sole and the existing hatches.  As the new sole would tie in with the teak and holly of the old sole, I stretched a thread from the teak and holly pattern in the galley to the forward cabin.  I then used this taut thread to mark the old hatches position athwartships so that the pattern would align.  This had to be done as the inspection hatch holes would be cut in the new subfloor before the ¼” teak and holly ply was epoxied down to the subfloor.

With these holes cut I then cut, epoxied and screwed in trim to support the hatches.


After the subfloor was epoxied and screwed down I enlisted the skills of Rick Vogt of Vogt Yachts to install the teak and holly ply on top of the subfloor.  He used a 1” strip of teak athwartships at either end of the new floor so that any minute inconsistencies between the new and old floor would not stick out.  He also ran the new teak and holly ply under the edge of the port settee so that it would be easier to get a clean edge.  He therefore had to shave ¼” off the height of all the vertical settee pieces that had been removed to facilitate the floor removal.

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Once the teak and holly ply was epoxied in place he routed out the inspection hatch holes and the small holes for the plates that accept the table legs.

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He then replaced the vertical sections of the settee.  During the deconstruction of the port settee I managed to tear some of the teak laminate of the front of one of the pieces.  Rick epoxied a new piece of teak laminate to the old board.

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As the new subfloor was visible under the port settee, I floated it with epoxy to remove any joins and screw holes.  I then sanded and applied 2 coats of EZ Bilge to the complete floor of the inside of the settee.

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epoxy used to float the new subfloor

I moved the boat back to New Bern and on the way there I swapped the three-way fuel valves back and forth several times to ensure that fuel supply was maintained.  No problems arose.  Debbie and I then spent the next 9 days sanding, cleaning, filling bung holes and varnishing the complete sole, 8 coats!

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all sanded down and ready for varnish

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eight coats later…

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It is good to have the boat back in a condition where we can move around freely and another major project is completed.  As the old fuel tank had no pitting I feel secure in the knowledge that the new aluminum tank will outlast the boat.  As the new water tank is polypropylene, there should be no issues with longevity there either.



Three weeks, three countries

Before we start this blog I just wanted to show the path we have taken for the last 2 months in Scotland…

After a lazy weekend, on Monday, Katie, Moray and I headed to Blairgowrie, near Perth.   Jane & David, along with four of their friends, had rented a couple of cottages just outside the town, and had a week of golfing and fly fishing planned.  We arrived mid-afternoon, and looked around until the others arrived back from a day’s fishing, with Jane being the star of the day!

The next day, we all headed out to the river, for another day of fishing.  I have never been salmon fishing in my life, and confess that I had never really understood the attraction.  I’m a convert!  The river was so peaceful, and it was really relaxing.  I even managed to catch a couple of twigs!  Katie caught a fish but unfortunately it got off the hook when she and Moray were trying to get it into the net.


Katie, fish hunting!

While the others remained at the river, Moray, Katie and I drove to Guildtown, where Katie used to live.  We had a nice pub lunch, followed by a trip down memory lane, before heading back to Blairgowrie to cook a traditional Scottish meal of mince, mealie jimmies (white puddings), and tatties (potatoes) for the group.

The next day was a bit dismal so Katie and I decided to spend the day watching TV and knitting, while the others went back to the river.  Moray didn’t catch anything, but David came back with a nice salmon.  That evening we all went out to a fantastic fish restaurant, called Little’s, for a great dinner.  Thank you Jane, David, Johnny, Nessa, Martin and Liz for letting us crash your holiday and being such gracious hosts.

After driving back to Turriff, I spent the next few days knitting more items for the upcoming craft fair, while Moray finished off some tasks that Katie needed doing, as well as helping out with the pointing work at Sunrise.  We also accompanied Katie to her bowling club, her scrabble club and her knitting club!

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the fruits of Debbie’s labors

On Friday, Ken came over to spend a couple of nights, as he had been working so hard on his new kitchen the whole time we had been in Scotland.  Just like his brother, he can’t sit still for long, so on Saturday, they both headed over to Sunrise to carry on the pointing work with the Angus and Robert.  Then on Sunday, everyone headed to Aberdeen for the official kitchen unveiling.  It was a lovely afternoon, and a nice end to our two month stay in Scotland.

On Monday morning, we started our southward journey.  Our first stop was Stirling.  First of all, we took a look around the Church of the Holy Rude, where the kings of Scotland were crowned.  The church is beautiful and there is plenty of information available to the public, in many languages.  Now that is not uncommon at tourist sites, but I have to say, I have never seen an information sheet in Doric before!  That is the dialect of the Northeast Scots.

Next we climbed the hill to Stirling Castle and spent a couple of hours there.  There is a lot to see, from the old kitchens, the king’s and queen’s chambers (where we learned all about the official animal of Scotland – the unicorn), to the Royal Dining Room.  We also saw the carefully reproduced ceiling panels – absolutely stunning.

We left Stirling Castle and took a quick detour to the William Wallace Memorial, before heading south, back into England, to spend the night at Tebay motorway service station.

The next morning, we drove to Bowness, on Lake Windermere in the Lake District.  We bought a “Walker’s Tour” ticket , and hopped on to a boat.  This took us a little way up the lake to Ambleside, where we stopped for a drink, before taking the next boat across the lake to Wray Castle.  We didn’t look around the Castle, but stopped outside to eat our packed lunch, before starting our 4 mile walk along the side of the lake.  It was absolutely stunning scenery, and I couldn’t help thinking about Swallows and Amazons which was set in the Lake District!  We arrived at the ferry port just in time to take a boat back to our starting point.

From there, we drove down the M6 towards Liverpool, stopping to spend the night at a motorway service station.  This wasn’t anywhere near as nice as Tebay, but had showers and was a safe place to spend the night.

After a noisy night, on Wednesday morning we drove to Liverpool.  I went to University in Liverpool and so this was quite a day for me.  I loved getting to show Moray the wonderful sights that I remembered, as well as enjoying all the changes (for the better, in most cases) that have happened since I left.  We parked up at the Albert Dock and walked from there into town.  From there, we headed up to the Anglican cathedral .  The cathedral is indescribably beautiful, so I will let the pictures tell the story.

Next, we walked along Hope Street to Liverpool’s Roman Catholic Cathedral  This building could not be more different but is equally beautiful.  Just across the street, is the University of Liverpool campus.  It has changed since I was there, but we took a wander through the Guild of Students (the Student Union building in my day!).  The cheap bars have all gone, replaced with coffee shops, and the main hall where I saw Yazoo is now a coffee lounge.  Next, we walked back to Abercromby Square and took a nose around the School of Classics, where I spent three years of my life!  Not too much has changed there.  Having made myself feel really old, we next walked back down the hill towards China Town, for a quick bite to eat, before walking past Lime Street Station, back to Albert Dock.

We took a look at the Liver Building with the famous Liver Birds…

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Next, we spent an hour or so looking around the Slavery Museum.  This was really interesting and I wish we had more time there.  Our day was almost done, so we headed back to the car and started the next part of trip, but with one final detour via Carnatic Halls, where I lived in student residences for two years.  Nothing much had changed and it brought back lots of good memories.  We had originally planned to stay in a motorway service station that night, but we hadn’t slept well the night before and decided to see if there were any campsites available.  We found the Erw Glas Campsite in Colwyn Bay and booked a place for the night.  This was a great decision!  The campsite had great showers and facilities, the host was very friendly and it was very quiet!  Having paid up and settled in, we went to a nearby restaurant, called Tal Y Cafn, which our host recommended.  Unfortunately, our first choice of food was unavailable, but we had a lovely evening.  And after getting back to the campsite, we had a great night’s sleep in the peaceful surroundings.

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Debs showing off our sleeping arrangements (note all windows have blackout shades)

After a lazy start to the day, (and great showers!), we headed to the seaside town of Llandudno.  We had a good breakfast and took a walk along the pier, before heading to the island of Anglesey.  This was going to be a quick trip to visit a little town called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyllllantysiliogogogoch!  That’s right – that really is the name of the town and is the longest town name in the world!

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The town name means “Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave”.

Having taken a few photos, we headed back over the bridge and drove to Caernarfon.   This is a walled town with a wonderful castle, built by King Edward I as a fortress.

We spent several hours looking around the castle and the town, before setting off towards Brecon, where we planned to find another campsite to spend the night in.  We had driven or about 15 minutes when Moray said “uh-oh”.  That never bodes well!  I asked what was wrong and he said that the battery had just died and we needed to stop.  We were literally just arriving at a service station, so we pulled in, just as the car died.  The service station checked the battery and confirmed that the problem was our alternator.  That was bad news in itself, but worse was the fact that they were short staffed and wouldn’t be able to fix it that day.  They suggested another service place, got our battery charged enough to get there and pointed us in the right direction!  We made it to B&K Williams and went it to tell them our sob story.  They were absolutely amazing.  They sent us off on foot into Caernarfon (Only 15 minutes on foot) while they obtained the part we needed and fitted it – all in under four hours.  We can’t praise and thank this company enough!  We got back on the road, but decided not to tempt fate and headed straight back to Clevedon!

The next few days were mainly taken up with knitting for the upcoming sale, but first, we attended the “Last Night of the Proms”, Clevedon-style!  It was a lot of fun, and we thoroughly enjoyed joining in the very loud rendition of Land of Hope & Glory!

On Saturday morning, we loaded up our sale items and headed to the Clevedon Community Centre for the sale.  The weather wasn’t very nice, which was unfortunate, as neither I nor my nephew, Will, made many sales.  Ah well, there is a craft fair at the beginning of November, which Mum is going to, so she will put my items on her stall – watch this space!

On Sunday, Mum and Will headed off to a car boot sale, so we spent the morning watching Outlander.  We had heard so much about this show, and having just spent two months travelling around Scotland, we thought that maybe it was about time!  We got part way through the first season, so we still have quite a way to go!

Monday was a treat day for Moray – we drove over to Cardiff to the IMAX theatre to see Bladerunner 2049.  All I will say is that Moray thoroughly enjoyed it!!!  And that I get to pick the next film…. [Moray’s Note:  It was freakin’ AWESOME]

We are now entering the last two weeks of our trip, and still have people to see and places to go.  Thank you so much to my Mum, who has given us use of her car as – yay! – we sold ours this morning for the same price that we bought it for!  It was the perfect solution for our travels around England, Scotland and Wales as we would do the same thing again if we decide to spend an extended period exploring another country.

From Sheds to Sheilings

August has been a very busy month!  Part of the reason for coming back this summer was to help Moray’s cousin, Angus, work on the remodel of his croft, Sunrise.  As is always the way of these things, planning permission for the major remodel has not yet been forthcoming, but there were still plenty of projects to work on!  So for the majority of the month, we split our time between staying with Moray’s Mum and staying at Sunrise.

Just to give you an idea, here are some of the projects we worked on with Angus and Paulette:

Building a shed (with a chainsaw)

Building a bed (with a chainsaw… seeing a pattern? 🙂 )

Giving a new lease of life to a garden seat, by repainting the metal frame and replacing the rotten boards

Digging a drainage ditch to allow the shed wall to dry out

The walls of the croft were built with stone and lime mortar.  At some point, someone had repointed using cement, which looks ugly and also allows damp to be retained in the walls.  Over the years, this has become a problem, so the job was to remove that cement and prepare the walls for Angus to repoint with lime mortar.

Of course, it hasn’t all been working!  Alongside sleeping late, scrabble, backgammon and knitting clubs, time was spent traveling.  I went to Pennan with Moray’s mum while moray was helping his brother with a kitchen rebuild.  Pennan is a pretty little coastal town on the Aberdeenshire North coast.

When Moray came back from helping his brother he made a batch of home brew which he set aside to be ready when we returned from Edinburgh.

We were then off for a long weekend in Edinburgh, attending The Fringe and The Tattoo.  We camped in the car at the Festival Campsite, run by Camping Ninja.  This group sets up campsites for most of the major festivals in the UK and is very well organized.  There are great facilities and it was right on a bus route, so we could avoid the astronomical parking fees at the festival.  Of course, it also meant that we could both have a drink or two…..

We arrived at the campsite around 1pm, enjoyed our welcome beer, and then set off by bus to take in some of the Free Fringe Festival Acts.  Most of the acts are in little rooms in various pubs and clubs or in the streets, and last about an hour.  The first one we saw was “Pottervision!”  – two young guys who re-enacted the whole of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” – just the two of them, using various props.  It was absolutely hilarious!  After that, we saw Erich McElroy, a stand-up comedian.  He’s an American living in London, and he gave a really funny account of how he was treated by his English friends and acquaintances when Trump was elected!  Finally, we were lucky enough to see Stephen Bailey’s “Can’t Think Straight” show.  Trust me, if you get a chance to see him, do it!

We took the bus back to the campsite and headed to the Big Tepee.  There were a couple of the acts staying there, and they were giving free previews to try to drum up attendance. (There are lots of acts that are free at the festival, but they rely on contributions after the show to pay their expenses).  There was a reason that they needed to drum up business, but it was fun to watch them!

One of the funniest things we saw in the streets was Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour.  All the people on the tour had on headphones and were tied into Guru Dudu’s waist mounted sound system.  He was a able to talk or play music to all the people and all other festival goers could hear nothing.  Its hilarious watching about 60 people all singing and dancing with no music to hear…

The next morning, we got the bus back into Edinburgh and spent the morning walking around, seeing the sights.  It is a beautiful city and with the street artists for the festival, was a really fun thing to do.  The first act we saw turned out to be our favourite of the Festival, Harriet Braine’s “Total Eclipse of the Art”.  She has very cleverly rewritten the words for popular songs, to accompany her “lecture” on various artists and famous paintings.  She is also a talented mimic, and her Kate Bush meets Edith Piaf needs to be seen to be believed!  We were really disappointed that she only had an hour!

Our next act wasn’t great, so we left and headed to another that had received great reviews.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t agree but it was one of the few events with a closed door, so we were stuck with it for the full hour – ah well, as they say, you get what you pay for…..

We had a couple of hours to kill before the next show we had selected, so we headed to Il Castello, for a superb Italian meal, before taking in Kate Butch’s show – and yes, I have spelled that correctly.  It was a great drag show, but we knew we would need to leave just before the end in order to get to our main reason for being in Edinburgh – the Tattoo.  We had been lucky enough to get tickets for the very last show for the year, and were very excited when we took our seats.  It started right on time, as you would expect with a Military event.  It was absolutely fantastic – military marching bands from around the world, including one from France who played Daft Punk songs and had the two pipers in crash helmets!  We joined in the singing of Auld Lang Syne, hands linked all around the arena.  The Scottish dancers were amazing and the light shows playing off the Castle walls were wonderful, but the stars of the show had to be the pipe bands, and especially, the lone piper on the Castle battlements to close the show.  It was an absolutely amazing experience!

We slept a bit late on Sunday, before heading back towards Turriff.  On the way we stopped of at Dunnotar Castle to see the beautiful scenery.

When we got back to Turriff, we spent an anxious couple of days watching the plight of our former home in Houston.  My heart goes out to all those who have lost so much, but I am very grateful that our friends all appear to have been spared.

We split the next few days between relaxing and working at Sunrise, before setting off on our next adventure.  Moray’s Mum was born in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, and a few years ago, he, his brother Ken and his Mum, spent a few days there, visiting the island and learning more about their roots.

Our first stop was Drumnadrochit, on Loch Ness, to take a look at the ruins of Urqhart Castle.

Then we walked the Abriachan Trails.  The views were incredible.

Next we went to Fort William, to look at the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase.  This is a staircase lock comprising eight locks on the Caledonian Canal. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 and it’s the longest staircase lock in Britain and it makes up some of the 29 locks on the Caledonian Canal.  Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the locks were closed for the night so we did not get to see them in operation but it is still a pretty interesting place to visit.

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View down the staircase

We drove into Fort William for a birthday dinner at The Tavern, before driving to Loch Linnhe.  There was a lay-by at the side of the loch, where we parked up for the night.

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On Thursday morning, we awoke to a glorious day and a beautiful view.  We drove just down the road to a café, where we ate a lovely breakfast before heading towards Skye.

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On the way, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, an ancient castle at the Kyle of Lochalsh.

After a brief stop, we got back on the road and headed across the bridge to Skye.  Our first stop was the pretty little town of Portree.

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Next stop was our main reason for stopping on Skye – to walk the Quiraing.  The walk was really hard work – steep hills, very windy and soggy underfoot.  We made it to the top, where we were disappointed to find that there wasn’t much of a view at the top because of the clouds.

Short video showing the vista at the Quiriang…

We needn’t have worried – we only needed to wait a few minutes before the clouds cleared, the sun came out – and so did the views….

It’s turning into a broken record but the views were indescribable.  We drove to the Ferry Terminal in Uig where we found a safe place to spend the night.

We had Tesco’s quiche and salad for dinner and then headed to the bar at the Ferry Terminal.  While we were there, we saw a flyer for the Blas Festival, which is an annual celebration of Gaelic culture and music that takes place over the Highlands of Scotland in early September.  We found that there would be a Ceilidh in Tarbert the next night.  As our ferry arrived in Tarbert the next afternoon, we went on-line and bought tickets.

The next morning was a fairly lazy one, of coffee in the local café while waiting to board the ferry for the short trip over to Tarbert on Harris.  Right on time, at 2pm, the ferry departed.

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all aboard!

Our first stop on Harris was the Ferry Terminal offices, where they have public showers.  The shower was clean, the water was hot and plentiful – and only 50p.  Duly refreshed, we started our tour of Harris, the south end of Harris and Lewis.  We drove to Luskentyre to see the beach at high tide, before heading to Scalpay where the Ceilidh was to be.

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Luskentyre at high tide

We found the community centre and a place to spend the night, and headed round to the only restaurant in town.  Although they were busy, they said they would be able to fit us in, which was great as the food smelled delicious.  Unfortunately, they then said that they only accept cash and we didn’t have enough on us.  So we drove back to Tarbert and had dinner at the Hebrides Hotel.  While we were eating, several other tables were talking to the waitress about that evening’s Ceilidh – it turns out that this was THE event of the month and everyone was going to be there, including all the bar staff!  So we headed back to Scalpay.  The Ceilidh was to be a joint event to celebrate the 80th birthday of local lady, Morag McLeod, as well as the Blas Festival.  There were a couple of tables of food, along with the cheapest bar we have seen in a while!  The first few hours were the birthday celebration, with local artists performing songs and playing the accordion and guitar.  The music was fantastic, even though we didn’t understand any of the words as it was all in Gaelic!  After the birthday celebration, all the tables were pushed back to the walls and the band set up – an accordion, a guitar and bagpipes.  The music was great and most people got up and danced.  I was even pulled up on to the dance floor by one of the local ladies and, while I can’t say I danced, I was guided around the dance floor to the Gay Gordon!  It was a fantastic evening, which wrapped up around 1:30am.  We didn’t have far to go as we were sleeping in the car park!

We spent Saturday exploring Harris by car.  We went back to Luskentyre to walk the beach from the north side.

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Debbie is the dot on the beach near the right hand side

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Next we drove to Leverburgh, the plan being to get lunch at the famous Butty Bus.  Typical – it was closed that day!!  We were a bit disappointed but found a Co-op which was well supplied so we bought enough stuff to feed us for a couple of days, before carrying on round the coast to Rodel.  This is where we found St. Clements Church, which was built for the chieftains of the McLeod clan.

After visiting the church, we sat next to the harbour at Rodel and had a picnic lunch

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harbour at Rodel with the hotel in the background

Then we headed back up the east coast of Harris, along the Golden Road, so called because it cost so much to build!  We went right the way round the southern part of island, then back across the isthmus to the northern end of the island.

We stopped at Glen Meavaig, walked up to the North Harris Eagle Observatory, and then continued on to Loch Voshimid, a 9 mile round trip.  There were a couple of people fly fishing in the loch, but we didn’t see anyone catch anything.

After the walk we needed another shower, so we popped back to Tarbert, cleaned up and then headed back to Huisinis (pronounced Hushinish), where we planned to spend the night.  The drive around the mountain was a bit hair-raising, but well worth it.  We even saw 5 deer on the way.  We discovered on arrival, that three days before, a new facility had been opened up for tourists.  There was plenty of parking, recycling bins, toilets, and (from 8am to 8pm), a shower block, more toilets and a viewing room, with picnic tables and double glazing.  The story behind the need for the facility is that with the growth in popularity of campervans, tourists had been blocking the access for the local crofters, and, I’m sorry to say, leaving rubbish lying around.  There had been public toilets before, but in the summer, the demand on the local water supply had been so much that they had been forced to bring water in by road.  Obviously, this wasn’t good for anyone, so first, the locals got together and installed two wind turbines, which supplied power to the area and provided an income by selling off the surplus.  That income, together with grants, provided the £270,000 needed to build the new centre.

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inside the new camping facility overlooking the beach

After a very windy night, with the car rocking almost as much as Sol Purpose, we awoke to some strange sounds.  On looking out of the window, we saw several highland cows and sheep!  They had wandered down from the hills above into the car park and were just wandering around!

It was pouring with rain for most of the day, so we decided to just stay put, making the most of the viewing room.  We read books, chatted with the intrepid bikers and walkers who showed up, and generally enjoyed the views.

On Monday morning, we headed out from Huisinis, and started to investigate the west coast, which has several historic sites.  We drove to see the Calanais (pronounced Callanish) standing stones.  Although not as well-known as Stonehenge, these standing stones are older.  Again, unlike Stonehenge, the stones are not really a circle, but more of a cross.  No one really knows what their purpose was, but they are very impressive.  It was initially a stone circle, a small chambered tomb was added later and the the cross was added still later.

Our next stop was the Carloway Broch.  This is the remains of an ancient homestead, probably of a powerful family, built on several levels.

The weather was a bit unsettled, so we took a side trip to Stornaway, the biggest town in Lewis, to visit the museum at Lews Castle.

The museum describes life in the islands from pre-history through the present day.  They make great use of oral histories, which brings it very much to life.  We spent several hours looking round the museum, before heading over to the west coast of Lewis and Great Bernera.  Bosta, at the north end of this island is home to the second of five of the time and tide bells installed by Marcus Vergette in 2010.

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time and tide bell in the distance

Right next to the bell was a recreation of an iron age house on a site where 4 were found.

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iron age house showing how they dug the entrance partially below ground level and partially walled to protect the entrance from winds

That evening we had dinner at the Doune Braes hotel restaurant.  There was a film crew making a movie there, but we weren’t able to find out much about it.  So after dinner, we headed to our stop for the night – Adroil, near Uig (Moray note: there is an Uig on Skye and Lewis).  This is the place where, in the 1800s, a beachcomber discovered a set of Norse chesspieces which became known as the Lewis Chessmen.  This was a beautiful beach with a lovely campsite, providing clean showers, toilets and trash cans.  All this for £2 per person per night!  It was already getting dark, so we parked up and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we took advantage of the lovely showers, before checking out the coast and beaches around the area.

Then we carried on up the west coast to check out some more of the sites.  During the drive, we marveled at how beautiful but bleak the scenery was.  The people who live and farm here must be a hardy breed!  This was borne out when we visited the Black House Village.  This was an inhabited village until about the 1970s, but was abandoned when the last inhabitants moved out.  Recently, the village has been restored.  Two of the houses are now a museum, while the rest can be rented out as holiday accommodation.  One of the highlights was watching a weaver making traditional Harris Tweed.

The loom was fully operational and the weaver was working when we were there…

We continued on up the west coast, visiting a few more sites, such as the Whalebone Arch,

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and a huge monolith

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and a Norse Mill, which has been reconstructed.  Unlike most mills there was never a vertical wheel.  The water was diverted under the mill and passed a paddle wheel directly connected to the mill stone.

Finally, we arrived at the most northern tip of the island, the Butt of Lewis.  Aside from the couple of hurricanes I have unfortunately experienced, this is probably the windiest place I have ever been!

We also visited the town of Ness, before heading down to New Tolsta where we planned to spend the next couple of nights.  The following day was another wet one, so we spent the morning reading and watching the locals show up to walk their dogs on the beach.

There was a break in the weather, so we decided to walk the Bridge to Nowhere, and take a look at the waterfall.  We were very lucky in that the rain held off the whole time we walked.  Almost as soon as got back to the car park, the heavens opened again, so we went back to reading!

Thursday was our final day in the Outer Hebrides.  We drove to Stornoway and got showers at the local YMCA.  As it was raining, we popped into a café and, while we enjoyed cappuccino and hot chocolate, we made use of the internet to catch up on the news and contact the boatyard who are caring for Sol Purpose.  At this point she is in the line of fire of Irma, though it is always possible that Irma will turn inland and we will dodge a bullet.  Not so much for our poor friends in Florida, and our thoughts are with them at this terrible time.

We took a drive out to see the memorial for the Iolaire disaster.  On January 1, 1919, a ship was heading back to Lewis, carrying 280 passengers, most of whom were servicemen returning from the war.  There was a terrible storm and the Iolaire got off course.  She ran aground on some rocks called the Beasts of Holm, just a few yards off shore.  One man, John McLeod, managed to swim to shore towing a heaving line, and it was used to guide some 40 of the passengers to shore.  However, the seas were dreadful, most of the passengers couldn’t swim, and several were weighed down by their heavy uniforms.  Over 200 people died, and some villages lost all their young men.  The monument is very moving.

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not the best weather for a walk.  The beasts of Holm can be seen between Debbie and the monument.  Now there is a navigational aid mounted there.

We headed back into Stornaway, and checked in for our ferry crossing the next day.  Then we went to the Royal Hotel, which has a restaurant called The Boatshed.  We had a superb meal there which was a great end to our trip.  Then we headed out for drinks at a local pub and then to the car park behind the ferry terminal where we could safely spend the night.

We were up at 5:30am to catch the 7am ferry to Ullapool.  The crossing took 2 ½ hours and was uneventful.  On arrival, we had a nice breakfast in Ullapool at the Frigate Café (sausages, bacon, egg, haggis, black pudding, hash browns).  Then we had a leisurely drive back to Turriff where we are now relaxing while the laundry is washing!

Quite a month!

UK or Bust

When I last wrote an entry, I said that my next blog would be all about our UK trip, as all we had to do was move the boat and head for the airport.  The best laid plans etc., etc. – on Friday morning, the plan was to take Sol Purpose to the pump out station and the fuel dock, before heading to the boatyard.  I would drive there, while Moray would single hand the boat.  We settled up with the marina, started the engine, and left the slip.  Just as we turned into the fairway, the motor died.  Moray started it up again and we headed toward the pump out dock.  We had just made the turn, when the motor died again, leaving us drifting toward the railway bridge.  Unfortunately, in an effort to be efficient on arrival at the pump out dock, we had moved all the spare anchor chain in the anchor locker onto the primary anchor chain so we could get to the pump out deck fitting, so now we couldn’t drop the anchor.  And of course, we had removed all the sails to storage for the summer, so we now had no means of propulsion and no brakes!  Moray was trying to get someone’s attention to help us, while I took the wheel and tried to steer the boat away from the bridge.  We realized that we still had some control over the direction, so between us we managed to get into a slip, and get Sol Purpose safely tied up.  Moray immediately took a look at the engine to try to figure out what had happened.  Before long everything was fixed – just a couple of pipe clamps tightened a little too much on the new fuel lines he had just finished installing.  This caused the fuel pipes to be restricted.  With much relief, we started the motor and headed to the pump out station!

Moray took the wheel and drove the boat down the river to Wayfarers Marina, where Sol Purpose was lifted out of the water and onto the stands where she will spend the summer.  We packed bags for the trip home and then headed to our Air BnB for the night.  The next day, we went back to the boatyard, to complete a few final tasks.  I cleaned the now defrosted fridge and freezer, while Moray worked on some repairs to the prop shaft.  It was very hot in the boat, and the work was tough, but eventually everything was done.  We spoke with the boatyard manager and a craftsman there to organize work that would be carried out while we were in the UK.  This included the repair to the skeg, new bottom paint and some small gelcoat repairs.  We then headed back to the Air BnB.  Sunday morning saw one final trip to the boatyard to wrap things up and secure the boat, before heading to the airport to pick up a rental car.  Then it was back to get an early night as we would have a long day the next day.

Monday morning, at 5:30am, we began the long drive to New York.  We took turns at the wheel, and arrived at around 4pm, dropped off the car and checked in for our flight.  Of course, it was delayed, but not too long, and by 8pm we were on our way to Brussels.  We arrived at around 7:30am, picked up our bags and stowed them in an airport luggage locker.  Then we took a train into Brussels to spend the day sightseeing.  We didn’t have a huge amount of time, and we were very tired after the traveling, so we didn’t do too much, but we enjoyed seeing the Manneken Pis and his sister, the Jeanneke Pis!  Something caught Moray’s eye, in the same area as Jeanekke Pis was a Space Invaders Pis!!

We stopped for a Belgian beer or two, while people watching in the town square.  We walked around a beautiful park, and had a picnic lunch.

Finally, we bought some Belgian chocolates, before getting the train back to the airport.  Right on time, our flight to Bristol departed and by 10:30pm, we were at Mum’s house in Clevedon.

We had a relatively lazy day on Wednesday.  Mum had a list of tasks for each of us, so we researched what was needed to complete them.  We also started looking on Gumtree for a vehicle.  Our first thought was to get a campervan, but those proved to be far too expensive, so we started looking for an estate car that would be big enough for us to sleep in.  In the meantime, Mum kindly insured us to drive her car so we would have transport.

The next day, Mum dropped us off in Clifton, and we went on a trip down Memory Lane (for me, that is!)  First we walked through Clifton, where I used to work, then down Park Street, stopping off at Browns for a cold drink.  Next we went to Bristol Museum, and saw Alfred and the Gypsy Caravan.  The next stop was Brandon Hill and the Cabot Tower, which Moray climbed to see the great views of Bristol.  Then it was time to head to the Waterfront.  Since I left, the whole area has been revitalized and now is a bustling area with restaurants and bars.  We had a lovely dinner, sitting watching the boats, before heading to Avery’s.  I had found that there was a classic film festival going on and had bought tickets to see Casablanca in Avery’s wine cellars.  We were really excited about this, which was a shame, as the film was actually being shown on Friday!  Luckily, Mum was still in Bristol, so we called her and then headed to the Llandoger Trow and had a drink while we waited for her come and pick us up!  This is a pub that has been open near the waterfront since 1664.

After a quiet day working on our task list, Mum took us into Bristol and we went for a meal before round two of trying to see Casablanca.  This time we had it right!  We were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco, before heading into the candlelit cellars to watch the film.  A representative of the film festival gave us some interesting details about the film, before handing over to the Avery’s representative.  He explained that the film would be stopped at a number of places, and we would then be given a glass of wine from a country related to the film.  We had four glasses – one each from America, France, Germany and Casablanca (which is in Chile!).  We thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and will be signing up for another when we get back to Bristol!  Once the movie was over, we headed to the bus stop to get the bus back to Clevedon.  The bus was late, but it was not a big deal as we met the Nailsea Nutters – a great group of older gentlemen who all meet up at a pub on Friday evening, have a few drinks and then ride back home on the bus.  They sang songs all the way home!

We spent most of the weekend working on our task lists.  Mine was easy – all knitting and crochet based.  Moray’s was much more difficult and involved building shelves in the pantry, the kitchen and the bathroom, as well as hanging mirrors and mounting a TV on the wall.

On Monday, Mum, Moray and I took the train from Yatton into Bath.  First stop, straight off the train was a coffee shop which is manned by, and in support of, people with autism.  Then we walked around Bath, looking at the Roman Baths (outside only!), and Bath Abbey, before heading to Sally Lunns Bun shop for lunch.  After lunch, we walked across Pulteney Bridge, past the Weir, and over to the Royal Crescent, before heading back to the train.  Bath is a beautiful city, and we hope to spend a bit more time there later in our trip.

Our next trip was to visit my aunt Chris and her husband Bryn in Ross on Wye.  After coffee, a chat, and a haircut for Mum (!), we all jumped in the cars and took a drive through the Forest of Dean to Symonds Yat.  There is a lovely pub on the river bank, right by a working ferry crossing.  It is fascinating to watch the ferry as it is pulled across the river by hand.  After a lovely pub lunch, we drove a little further up the road to Symonds Yat rock.  This is a huge rock, where the views are amazing.

Mum left on Sunday for a week’s holiday in Germany with my nieces and one of my nephews so we decided to travel a little farther afield for our sightseeing while she was away.  On Monday, we drove over to Cardiff to do a little shopping, including looking at a car.  We had arranged to see a car at 6pm, so went to St Fagans for the afternoon.  This is a park with a castle, and over 40 buildings which have been moved from various parts of Wales to St Fagans as a museum of Welsh history and culture.  There is a mill, a tannery, a number of farms and shops.  Our favourite buildings were the weaver’s workshop and the terraced ironworkers houses.  The former has someone taking the wool through the whole process (after the shearing), through to woven blankets and shawls.  The loom was huge and very complicated to work, but fascinating to watch.  Each of the houses in the terrace is decorated differently, starting with the fashion of the period when the row was built, and then progressing along the row to the 1970’s, when the row was moved to St. Fagans.  It was really interesting, but a bit odd to see a house furnished exactly like my grandmother’s house!

After a few hours walking around the park, it was time to head to Caerphilly to view the car.  We had already seen a few other cars, but this was the one we liked, so we made a call to get insurance in order that we could take it home.  We ran across a by now familiar problem, in that the insurance company couldn’t accept a foreign credit card (and while I had opened a bank account, my cards had not yet arrived).  Disappointed but not too bothered, we paid a deposit and headed home to Clevedon.

The next day, we set out reasonably early to drive to Donington, to visit Moray’s sister, Jane and her partner, David.  Moray’s brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Lorraine, had been on holiday touring  England, and had arrived the day before.  After coffee, we had a tour of the wonderful house and garden.

We then drove to the Royal Horticulture Society’s gardens at Wisley.  There, we met up with Moray’s uncle, Alistair and his friend Pam.  Moray hasn’t seen Alistair since he was about six weeks old, so it was quite a meeting!  After a wonderful roam around the beautiful gardens, we headed back to Jane and David’s for a wonderful dinner of BBQ and home grown vegetables.

After a late start on Wednesday, we headed off to Caerphilly to buy the car.  We had found that it is possible to get car insurance for 24 hours to cover test driving and buying cars.  While it wasn’t ideal, it meant that we would at least be able to get the car home to Clevedon, while waiting for my debit and credit cards to arrive.  Everything went smoothly, and Moray drove the Ford Mondeo Estate back, while I drove Mum’s car.  Once back, we went to the Post Office to tax it, which entailed rushing to an ATM to get cash because, surprise, surprise, the Post Office couldn’t accept a US credit card!

On Saturday, July 22, we took our next road trip.  We had hoped to be able to use our car, but luckily, we were able to use Mum’s.  First we drove down the M5, then headed on to the B-roads across Dartmoor.  Moray thoroughly enjoyed driving on the small country roads, as well as the great views across the Moor.  At one point, we had to stop as our road was blocked by a Dartmoor pony!  When we came to a halt, the pony came up to the car, obviously expecting to get a treat.  Moray wound down the window to take a picture and the pony reached into the car itself.  It was hilarious! [Moray Note: until it started chewing the windscreen wiper lever!]

That encounter over, we continued across Dartmoor, past the prison, to another landmark – Jamaica Inn.  We stopped at the Inn for lunch, but I must admit to being a bit disappointed.  I had visited the Inn about 30 years before and loved it, but over the years, it has become much more commercialized, and there were a couple of coach loads of people there.

Then it was back to the country lanes, heading for Port Isaac, which is called Port Wenn in the TV series, Doc Martin.  We saw the buildings used as Doc Martin’s house, the school and the pharmacy.

After a short time there, we headed to Mount Hawke, where my Aunty Joan and Uncle Brian live.

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Aunty Joan welcomed us with a traditional Cornish cream tea – a cup of tea, and a scone, smeared with jam, then clotted cream.  (If you reverse the cream and jam, it is a Devon cream tea!)  After tea and a chat, we drove down to a nearby town, St Agnes.  Uncle Brian’s sister-in-law and nephew live in St. Agnes, and they came out to visit with us, bringing coffee, cake and a jar of honey, which we enjoyed, while sitting on a bench overlooking the harbour.  Then it was back to Mount Hawke for dinner.

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St. Agnes

You may well have noticed a recurring theme in this blog – every time we get to someone’s house, or reach a town, coffee/tea and cake seem to appear.  We are going to be huge by the time we get back to Sol Purpose!

Early on Sunday morning, Moray and I headed off to another nearby town, called Porthtowan via some abandoned tin mines which are prolific in the surrounding countryside.

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There is a popular surfer’s beach in Porthtowan, so we sat having breakfast, watching people arriving to surf.  Moray was really interested in one house, which is a converted tin mine.

After a traditional Sunday lunch, we said goodbye to Joan and Brian, and took the motorway back to Bristol.  We had intended attending the closing event of the Harbourside festival but as it was pouring with rain, we decided to head straight back to Clevedon.  And finally, we had fish and chips for dinner!

We spent Monday getting the car ready for our trip.  I bought a black bed sheet, and Moray got hold of some cardboard boxes.  We cut out blackout covers for each of the windows, and covered them with the black sheet.  We bought an inflatable bed and pump which fits perfectly in the back of the Mondeo, so we were all set.  On Monday evening, Mum got back from her holiday, arriving at Tracy’s house at around 8:30pm so we drove over and picked her up. We finally managed to get our car insurance sorted out, so we were now all set to start the next stage of our trip.

On Tuesday morning, we said goodbye to Mum and headed away from Clevedon towards Oxford.  We parked in the Park & Ride and took a bus into the town to spend a few hours sightseeing.  We saw the School of Divinity, which was used as the Infirmary in the Harry Potter movies.  We ate lunch at a lovely old pub, just next door to Diagon Alley!  We spent a couple of hours walking along the Canal, looking at the narrow boats.  We stopped to chat with one of the boat owners, and learned a lot of interesting information about the logistics and costs of canal boating in the UK.

After leaving Oxford, we headed towards Letchworth, in Hertfordshire.  The reason for visiting is this is the home of St Christopher’s School, the boarding school where Moray spent 6 years of his childhood.  We walked around as much of the school as possible, reminiscing about the good, bad and naughty times he had there!  As the school is closed for the holidays, we decided that we would spend the night in the back of the car in the school car park!  Obviously, there are no toilets there, so we forced ourselves to go to a local pub, have a drink and, thus felt justified in using their bathroom.  Then we parked in school car park, put the window screens in and turned in for our first night in the car.

We spent a remarkably comfortable night, and slept well, though of course, we woke up when the sun rose at about 6am!  We headed straight to Tesco, where there was a Costa Coffee and bathrooms!  After a delicious coffee, and picking up some lunch, we drove to Stamford.  This is a beautiful old town where several period dramas have been filmed, for example Middlemarch.  While walking along the river bank, we met a pike fisherman, who regaled us with all sorts of interesting stories!

Then we continued our journey northwards, across the Yorkshire moors to Tebay service station in the Lake District.  We had researched places to stay overnight, and found that newer motorway service stations, have to offer shower facilities and a place to park overnight.  We parked up and immediately made use of the free showers.  We then paid our £10 fee to spend the night, before going to their café and picking up some pies for dinner.  Then we moved the car a little farther away from the petrol station before settling in for the night.

The next morning, we had breakfast, bought some lunch from the Farm Shop, checked the air in the tyres, and then headed back to the road.  We drove to Falkirk, where we had two sights to see.   First we went to the Kelpies.  These are two gigantic sculptures of horses’ heads.  I must admit, I hadn’t been too enthusiastic, but they are spectacular!  After a while walking round the sculptures, we headed to the Falkirk Wheel.  This is an amazing feat of engineering, which is the only one of its kind in the world.  Rather than have a series of locks to move people up and down the canal, there is what I can only describe as a ferris wheel with a bucket at the bottom and the top.  The boats travel into the buckets, and the wheel moves round.  I’m not explaining this well, but maybe the pictures will help!  It is also possible to spend the night in the car park, for a fee of £15, which includes access to bathrooms and showers.  That all taken care of, we headed out to dinner at the Wheelhouse, before heading back to the Kelpies.  Although the Kelpies were fabulous during the day, we had heard that at night, they are illuminated.  Moray wanted to try to get some night pictures.  We got there far too early, so went for a walk until it started to get dark, at around 10:15pm!  It was worth the wait, as you will see from the pictures.  Pictures successfully obtained, we headed back to the Wheel car park, to settle in for the night.