• Anchored: The Pursuit of Less in a World of More


    Over time, we have developed a routine for anchoring. Communication is by gesture from the front of the boat to the cockpit at the back. Go left, straight ahead, hold there.  The anchor drops and the chain falls through the water. We check it holds, put away the sails, make tea. Settle.

    Anchorages are special places. Some are wide open bays, others are small, hidden coves. They take effort to get into, navigating shallows, rocks and wrecks. Beyond the boat, we can see where the water meets the land, edged by grains of sand, and then trees and the rise of hills. The best ones are crammed with nature, with occupants that conform to unwritten rules – don’t get too close, don’t make a noise, leave us be.

    Time is different at anchor, slower. It is filled with reading, eating, talking. Not talking. Sometimes we swim if we are brave enough.

    Mostly we watch, notice.

    On the ebb-tide, the water slips away from the shore. The boat drops, and inch by inch the seabed is revealed. An expanse of mud creeps up on us and the shallows appear.  The birds get closer, going about their low-water routines. We see the orange legs of oyster catchers, the precise beaks of curlews, the flutterings of turnstones. They all peck at the mud, moving stones and filtering seaweed to get to the delights now uncovered.  Seals recline on the mudflats in the last of the light, flippers on one side held up in the air. A faint smile on their faces, and ours.

    We are searching for less. Less people, less thought, less information, less stuff. We find it most at anchor, where we can chase the slow; reduce life down to the the details of what we can see, hear and feel.  Attached by only a chain to the seabed and surrounded by water, we are our own small island. Time is led by the rhythms of the day and the tide, by the routines of nature. As it moves on, day into night, we become increasingly invisible, insignificant. There is no choice but to become mere observers to the world around us.

    We watch the light fade, and the dark set in. The anchor light blinks on, a small white glow at the top of the mast that marks our place. This is my favourite time, when the noises begin. We can no longer see the birds, but we hear them, chattering to each other, finding their tribes, settling, nestling. If something disturbs them, they take to the skies, squawking, a thousand wings beating in the darkness. The breeze touches our faces, and permeates the boat. We listen to it move around the rigging, testing for anything we haven’t secured properly. The anchor chain creaks on the bow-roller, water laps against the sides. We hear all the sounds, every one.

    Over the next few days, the water moves up and down, in and out, and with it we rise and fall, and turn. Digital is replaced by analogue as the batteries run down on our gadgets, a reminder that our time here is limited, as are our resources. We feel the pull to our land-lives, out of the bubble and back to business as usual. In anchoring, we manage to slow it down. We pursue less, but actually we discover so much more. More detail, more calm. We develop a better sense of what is important. We are richer, with a different perspective.

    We wake, eat, check the tides, the wind, charts. Ready to go, we winch the chain up, out of the water, and find a way out. Back to the open sea and away again, until the next time we find ourselves at anchor.

  • A Moment in Soller – From our trip to Mallorca


    By the station, a band started to play.  It was the type of music that made you tap your feet and sway side to side. It made you want to snap your fingers, grab a partner, and be caught up in it all. It evoked thoughts of earlier decades and brought shared smiles to the faces of the crowd that formed, filling the space around them. What joy to be here, in this moment.

    A drum beat out a clipped, easy rhythm. A ukulele plunked notes into the air. A large tuba wrapped itself around the player and let out deep, sweet toots. The singer at times played the trumpet, at others sang in the best raspy voice ‘swing, brother swing’.  They enticed us to dance, and we did, because what else could we do?

    Then the dancers arrived, as if they had heard the music. They spilled out of the station, dressed in another era. The women with berets set at jaunty angles, hair curled up, bright dresses that flared as they twirled, the men in waistcoats and wide-legged trousers. They waved to each other, coupled up, and started to dance. Their happiness and joy was infectious, an energy. They lulled us to sway and follow, made us believe for a while that we too were dancers.

    As one, the band and the dancers started to move down the streets of Soller, taking us with them. We passed the vans selling street foods, the cafes selling pastries and coffee. We collected more people as we went all moving together in a shared rhythm. By the time they reached the main square, the music and the movement had enchanted everyone to stand, watch, join in, as if this was the only thing that mattered. This small town, set in the heart of the mountains, brought together by the magic of Swing.

  • Somewhere only we know – an insider’s guide to the Isle of Wight, Part 2


    Following on from my previous post, here is the second of my favourite things to do, from the perspective of someone who lives on the island.

    #2 Walking from Cowes to Gurnard and back again

    This is a well trodden path and not such a secret, but it is still a favourite. It takes an hour or so to walk to Gurnard and back from Cowes, perhaps longer if you stop for a while or sit and have a coffee along the way.

    From Cowes, keep walking just beyond the Royal Yacht Squadron where all the flags and firing guns are. Just here is the beginning of the esplanade, marked by an area of green to one side and the sea to the other, edged by a pebbled beach. This is a great place to stop and read or watch the yachts go by. Sometimes there are just a few out on the water idly sailing along.  At other times the sea is filled with them such as during the Round The Island Race when they come so close they almost touch the shore. I love the variation in boats out on The Solent – yachtsmen fighting for space with the fast red-jet and the slower red funnel, the occasional cruise liner, and huge container ships that steam down the main channel.

    Further along the esplanade, it becomes quieter, with less people. This is usually at Egypt Point where the statues of lions make an appearance. This part of the walk is where I go to clear my head, breathe the air in, and reset. Sometimes I walk with a friend, there and back from Cowes is just enough time to sort the world out. You can start to imagine the vastness of the sea as you look out across the Solent as it heads towards the Needles and beyond. Boats go by on their way to who knows where. Having a boat myself, I want to join them.

    The arrival at Gurnard is marked by a row of beach huts. Usually a fleet of small boats is out racing on the water, there are swimmers in the sea, and children playing on the beach. I always stop and have a drink in the cafe here, The Watersedge, before reversing the walk and going back to Cowes.

  • Somewhere only we know – an insider’s view of the Isle of Wight, Part 1


    This winter we are back on the island and it has given me time to reflect on my favourite ways to spend some time here, be that walks by the sea, exploring secret beaches, or visiting places that hold a special meaning. They are all popular places seen from the perspective of someone who lives on the island, so that you know how best to experience them. Here is the first.

    #1 Walking up to the Tennyson Monument

    Just before you start this walk, stand at the bottom and look up. It’s a steep incline to start, but the views from the top are simply wow. Just dig your heels in and begin. Remember to take a breath every now and then, stop and look around, take it all in. We have done it in all weathers, but for some reason it is best done with a bit of a chill in the air. It adds to the achievement and you feel more deserving of a piece of cake when you come down again. It is also best done out of season, say in October, and in the morning when you will have the company of one or two others, perhaps a runner, the odd hare and maybe a cow.

    There is a small bench half way up, set in a place so random you have to remember it is there and search for it – we like to sit for a while and contemplate as this is always best done with your head closer to the clouds. At the top, where the monument is placed, the sea is on all sides, stretching out to forever to the south. The north brings a glimpse of the solent and the sea and land beyond along the Dorset coast. Behind is a view of the island, always bigger and greener than expected. Birds do laps above your head or alongside you at cliff height. Stay for a while and then come back down, walk along the pebbled beach at Freshwater, before driving a short distance to the End of The Line Cafe for that cake.

    Getting there
    The monument was named for Lord Tennyson who used to walk on the down to get his inspiration. It stands at the highest point of Tennyson Down in Freshwater, on the west side of the island. We usually park along Afton Road and then walk towards the Albion hotel. Keep going and then turn left down a pathway where the public toilets are. Go through the gate on your right and you are at the bottom of the Down.

    To get to the End of The Line Cafe
    Drive down Afton Road, heading away from Freshwater Bay for about a mile. It is opposite the Co-op store. If you are lucky, get a seat close to the log-burning fire in the back room.

  • Cat-sitting, boat-watching and our next adventure….


    At the end of August, we left Milos in Suffolk for the winter and headed back by car to the Isle of Wight. It seems really strange to be off the boat but it does give us the opportunity to spend some time in a house for a change.

    We spent September house-sitting for some friends and looking after Pickle, their crazy cat. We also knuckled back down to work.

    Now in October, we have moved again to a second house that belongs to a friend from the the marina. We have been blessed by the kindness of others in helping us find places to live until we get Milos back. Fingers crossed that will be around March time next year and in the meantime we can start planning our next sea escape.

    The weather since we have been back has been mild, with some beautiful days on the island. Down on the esplanade, I have sat and watched boats go out and have really missed being on our boat and enjoying last-minute sails before the weather closes in for good. Instead though, we have taken advantage of being so close to the sea and have been visiting some of our favourite places on the island.

    It is a good time to ponder about life on the boat. What do I miss about being on Milos? I miss the sound of the water, and the movement of the waves. I miss sitting and watching life on the river pass by. The opportunity to set ourselves adrift and go wandering. What don’t I miss? Overly windy nights and needing to preplan a shower because the shower block is so far away. But already we are far too addicted to warmth and space, so we need to experience some hardship or get out there again soon.

    Next month, we are off to Mallorca for three weeks. We booked this trip a while back, before we knew we would have to take the boat out of the water. The idea was to break up the long winter and enjoy some relative luxury, to get off the boat for a few weeks. And then we ended up in a house for the winter anyway! Best laid plans and all. It’s exciting though and gives us another chance to travel and find out about another island – can’t wait!

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