Last Words – our final blog entry

We hope that the descriptions of the places we’ve visited have resonated with you. Perhaps they have reminded you of places which are special to you. Such places become important symbols of freedom for each of us.

The evening after the children went back to school, I started reading aloud to them one of my long-standing favourite books, “Ring of Bright Water” by Gavin Maxwell. In his Foreword, Maxwell describes this freedom in these terms: “freedom, whether it be from the prison of over-dense communities and the close confines of human relationships, from the less complex incarceration of office walls and hours, or simply freedom from the prison of adult life and an escape into the forgotten world of childhood, of the individual or the race.

Maxwell continues: “For I am convinced that man has suffered in his separation from the soil and from the other living creatures of this world; the evolution of his intellect has outrun his needs as an animal, and as yet he must still, for security, look long at some portion of the earth as it was before he tampered with it”.

Here, Gavin Maxwell is articulating far better than I can emotions similar to those we have felt as a family about going to sea for a year. The remoteness and anonymity of many scenes and “places” we visited mid-Atlantic are in fact absolute: they are impossible to track down or to replicate. For Maxwell, a bay and a house in north-west Scotland are his symbols of freedom. The sea and sailing have become ours.

I write this just as we are selling Rafiki. We have willingly returned to our “over-dense communities” and to the “close confines of human relationships” and Rob and I are even looking forward to the “incarceration of office walls and hours”. Are we mad? (But then again, many – at times, even we ourselves – thought we were mad to leave in the first place.) I don’t think we’re mad. In fact, it is precisely because we know that such freedom is attainable that we can feel happy and fulfilled for the time being back in our normal lives. We certainly don’t plan to cast off again for a good decade at least, but relish the thought that, as one bluewater sailing writer has put it, “all you have to do to reach Narnia once more is steer for The Wardrobe” – just head off again into the sunset. Once a bluewater sailor, always a bluewater sailor…

The Narnia analogy seems apt to us. Our sailing life feels like a technicolour dream from which we’ve just woken up. The morning-after freshness and good cheer is still with us. But the sailing we have left behind has a distinct “other world” quality. The balance to strive for is being able to live and function happily in this world, while retaining the vision and invigoration from the other. We hope we’ve got the balance right, as we slip back into our old lives.

Whatever your “symbol of freedom” is – wherever your “Narnia” is (and maybe there are several of them): may you find it and connect with it. Sometimes, it is enough just to know that it is there for you.

Thank you for the wonderful support so many of you have given us and for reading our blog.

Goodbye, or as we would say on the marine radio:
Rafiki out.”

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Final days on Rafiki

Oh, our lovely boat Rafiki! We have been getting used to doing without possessions, but does Rafiki count as such?  In fact, she is one of the most expensive possessions we’ve owned. But she has also been our home for a year, keeping us not just comfortable, but alive and safe! Like all boats, she has her own special personality: her likes and dislikes and her own special foibles. She doesn’t like to be underpowered, she enjoys being sailed fast. She is quite big, but manoeuvrable and responsive. She’ll power through an ocean, but sit still for us at anchor. We’ll miss her!

Here are pictures of our final days with her, including the scattering of David’s ashes in the Solent.  (Thank you, Grandad, for having introduced your son and grandchildren to sailing.)

Scattering Grandad's ashes in the Solent

Scattering Grandad’s ashes in the Solent with Granny, aunt and cousins

Anne has a go

Granny has a go

Our last night on Rafiki - at anchor in Osborne Bay

Our last night on Rafiki – at anchor in Osborne Bay

Rafiki being lifted out at Swanwick (near Southampton)



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Scilly Cruise (July 2013) – Swimming with Seals

Our final few days in Scilly held a few treats in store.

First, an early morning cruise in Rafiki around the Bishop Rock lighthouse.  We kept well off it – the rocks looked ferocious!  We saw more seals, basking on the rocks and swimming over to us.

Bishop Rock Lighthouse

Bishop Rock Lighthouse – most of the rocks are just out of the picture

Our best treat of all was anchoring in Great Ganilly and managing to swim with seals.  There was only one boat in our vicinity: a solo sailor who arrived after us and only stayed a couple of hours before leaving us in perfect solitude.

Dressed in wetsuits, we took the dinghy around the corner to Menawithan – a rocky outcrop where a colony of seals were sunning themselves and swimming around us in the water.

I was the first in.  The water was incredibly cold, but so worth it!  They were delightfully curious.  With one seal, I had a game of “peepo”, as you would with a small child: let’s stare at one another above the water, then below the water, then above it again.  Then it swam up to me and straight past me.  Every time I moved towards one seal, Rob and the children would call “behind you!” and I’d turn round to find another seal swimming right past me.  It felt as though they were playing a big game and the joke was on me!

Soon, Rob and the children followed suit and had their turns with the seals sneaking up on them.  They are so reminiscent of dogs, with their keen, friendly faces and their playfulness and every bit as magical as the dolphins we’ve met and come to love.  What a special, memorable treat for us all!  A wonderful way to conclude a very gorgeous cruise.

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Scilly Cruise (July 2013) – Tresco, Bryher and Round Island

With some deep breaths and fingers crossed we navigated the slightly tricky passage up the Tresco channel to New Grimsby.  With Rafiki’s draught, we had to get tide timings spot on.

We spent some thoroughly enjoyable days exploring Tresco, including a trip to the beautiful Abbey Gardens and another round of bicycle hire (this time with no cars!)


Our anchorage was in a magical spot.  (Almost all of Scilly is beautiful – achingly beautiful!)  As a long-distance cruising boat, we automatically seem to attract the attention of others in the “club”.  We were invited to drinks by new friends, Marcus and Margie Hayward, from Island Kea II, which was anchored a few boats up from us.  It turns out they know friends of some friends of ours – excuse enough to pass a very pleasant evening with them, watching the gig racing happening around us in our anchorage.  Marcus and Margie were full of enthusiasm for their forthcoming trip – they were both setting off in their retirement to do what we had just done (and probably more).  They are a wonderfully warm and highly sociable couple.  I am sure they are going to have a marvellous trip of a lifetime, making the most of everything.  It will be worth the tricky time they had to get to this point. They made us feel highly nostalgic (and perhaps just a little envious, as we were about to sail home!)

Evening view from the anchorage in New Grimsby, Tresco

Evening view from the anchorage in New Grimsby, Tresco

From the same anchorage we also motored by dinghy around the top of the island to Piper’s Hole: a cave in the rocks that is filled with fresh water.  Even in the calm, sunny weather we had, it was a challenge to approach the rocks in the dinghy and scramble ashore.  Emily, especially, was anxious of the landing but overcame her nerves to explore the cave.

Inside the cave, some bright sparks had floated bits of polystyrene in the water with tealight candles sitting on them.  Sadly, the tealights had all gone out, but it was not hard to imagine how magical it must be to be there with them all lit and reflecting off the walls of the cave and in the water.  We were certainly grateful for our wetsuits – a must for any swimming in Scilly that isn’t in an indoor heated swimming pool!

Also from Rafiki’s anchorage in New Grimsby, we were able to visit Bryher.  We made friends with a kind Welsh family, who were camping in the picturesque campsite there and we enjoyed a lovely seafood meal at the Crab Shack.  As James and Emily were almost the only children there, they happily helped with the cooking!

We moved to the other side of Tresco to anchor in the peace and quiet of St. Helen’s Pool.  From there we went ashore to Old Grimsby, to attend the beautiful old parish church.  We pottered about in the ancient graveyard.  Many people had died early: in the world wars, in tragedies at sea or perhaps from hunger in former times of great poverty.

We also had our first close encounter with a seal, as we were motoring across in the dinghy to the beach on St. Helen’s.  It seemed completely unfazed by us and happily continued to bask in the sunshine, as we slowly motored past.

St. Helen's Pool at sunset

St. Helen’s Pool at sunset

Our last great treat from Tresco was an expedition by dinghy to the lighthouse on Round Island.  What a beautiful, remote spot, with lovely views across the islands.  There were no humans there when we were, but evidently the lighthouse has quite comfortable, yet simple accommodation for times when the light needs servicing.  It was a paradise for sea birds, who had happily made it their home.

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Scilly Cruise (July 2013) – St Mary’s, St Agnes and The Gugh

Approaching St. Mary’s, our first impressions were of a wild, rugged Atlantic island.  Although very beautiful in the sunshine, it is not hard to imagine how inhospitable these islands must be for sailors in bad weather:

Approaching St. Mary's

Approaching St. Mary’s


Rocks on St. Mary’s

There are tales of some islanders in the distant past, driven by extreme poverty, shining false lights to lure ships onto the rocks in order to claim salvage over their booty.  They “rescued” the booty (usually along with the ships’ crew members, at least) in beautiful wooden gigs.

Thankfully, modern day lifeboat men on Scilly are much more above board and very helpful.  The day after we arrived in St. Mary’s was a lifeboat open day.

We got to look round Scilly’s state-of-the-art Severn lifeboat and spoke to a very helpful member of the crew who gave us lots of useful hints on places to visit while we were in Scilly.  It is thanks to his advice that we got to swim with seals in the wild, to climb up to the remote Round Island lighthouse and to visit freshwater caves from the seaward side by dinghy, as well as finding some very beautiful sheltered anchorages in Scilly.

In fact overall we have found the islanders to be immensely friendly – friendlier than on the mainland.  (With the one exception of the grumpy fisherman who complained vociferously at my lack of skill in throwing our bow line up at him as we tied up against the harbour wall for refuelling.  But he did at least grab the line and make it off for us, before ordering Rob to show his “crew” how to throw a line properly!  I was highly indignant…)  In this world, doors are left unlocked, children can happily potter on their own and they trust you to “call in with the money later”.  How refreshing!

On St. Mary’s we hired bicycles and enjoyed a wonderful tour of the island.  There were very few cars on the lanes (this being the only island with any cars at all) and the cycling was gorgeous.  We explored cliff tops and beaches and stopped for a leisurely lunch in a Bavarian café, of all places, with delicious homecooked food.  The sky was deep blue, the sun was shining and everywhere there were gardens, walls and rockeries full of mesembryanthemum in full bloom (flowers that are daisy-like in shape, but the size and colours of carnations).  There were also lots of agapanthus coming into flower – a real favourite of mine, and which will now forever remind us of Scilly, as well as of the Azores.

We finished cycling just in time to wander into a pub to catch the last couple of points in the tennis, as Murray won Wimbledon.

The tennis over, we sailed the short passage to the beautiful, compact island of St. Agnes and its smaller neighbour, The Gugh, where we passed a happy, peaceful couple of days.

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Setting Sail Again (July 2013)

Back onto board again, back to the simple life!

We quickly fell into our straight forward routine of 2 to 3 hours of school in the morning and then a walk or an explore in the afternoon, with modest sailing ambitions.  Only if the weather was set to be fair for a while would we think about making the 60 mile passage to the Isles of Scilly.  Otherwise, we were going to stay put in the West Country, with perhaps a dash across the channel in a suitable weather window.  (Our house was empty from the end of June, so we always had the option of packing up and going home!)

The weather turned out to be lovely – perfect, settled light easterlies.  After a trip up the Fal to the Pandora Inn for lunch, we sailed around the corner from Falmouth to Helford.  We stayed there for a couple of days, enjoying a potter both by land and dinghy around Frenchman’s Creek, where the trees lean right down into the water and there is silence except for the call of the birds.  We attended a Caribbean(!) night at the local pub and enjoyed a lazy drink or two in the recently refurbished sailing club.

With settled easterlies continuing, it was ideal for a long day sail to the Isles of Scilly.  The day we set off provided us with one of those dawns it is worth waking up for:

In the mid-afternoon that day we arrived at St. Mary’s (the island on Scilly, not our house in Guildford, which, as it happens, was called St. Mary’s after the island!).  In the next few blog entries, I’ll publish some of our many photos from a truly magical holiday in Scilly.  A perfect final cruise for us on Rafiki – particularly fitting, as it was the last big cruise that Granddad made on his boat, Hope, before he fell ill a few years ago.  Some events in life are just clearly meant To Be…



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2 weeks on dry land (mid to end of June 2013)

(Cally writes:)

On 14 June I flew back to the UK. The following day was my birthday and a perfect introduction to our (brief) re-encounter with landlubbing life in England: a long hot bath, strawberry picking, a pub lunch and homemade chocolate cake for tea.  It was only going to be a short stay back on land: 2 weeks in which to attend David’s funeral, our friends’ wedding in Santiago de Compostela (in Spain) and my cousin’s ordination.  Then back to sea…

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São Miguel (7th – 14th June 2013)

(Cally writes:)

Apologies for the delay in completing our sailing blog.  It is August now, and we are back home with boxes unpacked.  It has taken us a while to sort through our photos and find the time to finish the story.

So, back to mid-June.  We had a calm and uneventful overnight sail/motor straight from Faial to São Miguel with my parents on board.  It was a shame to bypass islands like Pico, Terceira and São Jorge, which we had hoped to visit.  But sailing straight to São Miguel enabled Rob to fly home to be with his mother (following the news of his father’s death) leaving all of us and Rafiki in the right place for our various journeys home.



With Rob home, my parents and I hired a car to tour the island with the children.  Once again we saw some wonderful scenery:

The scenery included a very beautiful spot called the Lake of the Seven Cities, which is filling in the caldera of a large extinct volcano.  According to legend, 7 cities are buried under these 2 interconnected lakes.  The lakes are very pretty, one being greener than the other, due to the different algae growing in them.   However there are several more imaginative explanations offered by various local legends, my favourite of which involves unfulfilled love between a princess and a shepherd.  She shed tears from her green eyes (hence the green lake) and he from his blue eyes (hence the blue lake).  I thought it might make a good assignment for the children to write their own legend about how this unusual scenery acquired its strange name, but we never quite got round to it.

We also came across a rather splendid religious festival.  We started to drive past various young bullocks, decorated with flowers.  As we approached one particular village, the road was cordoned off and there appeared to be a group of about 8 male singers dressed in cloaks made from thick red curtain material.  This was the festival before (!) the festival of John the Baptist and the singers were processing to particular houses in the village to thank the occupants for feeding up a bullock in the course of the last year.  Meanwhile, the bullocks were being rounded up, one by one, until there was large procession of animals moving along with the singers.  The following week there was to be a very large feast in which plenty of beef would be consumed…

The children and my parents flew home a couple of days before me, so I could prepare the boat for our friend Peter to sail Rafiki back to Falmouth for us.  I gave the boat a thorough clean, in between catching up with friends on Peat Smoke and Mad Fish.

Clean and tidy...

Clean and tidy…

Peter and his crew were delayed by a day, which gave me the chance to go on a professional whale-watching tour from Ponta Delgada.  Although we saw plenty of dolphins and a number of whales whilst sailing, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to go out with an experienced local guide and a marine biologist.  I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of seeing dolphins or whales in the wild and the Azores is one of the best places in the world to see them.

Finally, having handed the boat over to Peter, I flew home on 14th June to join the rest of the family at my parents’ house for a hectic 2-week spell at home before returning to the boat in Falmouth.

We didn’t quite have the family holiday we had planned in the Azores, but we had a good taster.  The scenery is stunning and Rob and I would love to return there one day with some sturdy walking boots.  Although the islands feel (and are) remote, the Azoreans speak fabulous English, are well used to international travellers passing through and certainly know a thing or two about ocean life!

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Faial, Azores (2nd – 6th June 2013)

After an overnight sail, we arrived in the town of Horta, on the island of Faial.  This time, there was a proper sailor’s landfall for Simon!  Horta is a real sailor’s Mecca, with Peter’s Café Sport being the centre of the action: a wonderful, atmospheric sailors’ bar full of hoary old seadogs with a good yarn to tell.  (Phil Messham and Andy Gissing, our crew across the Atlantic to Saint Lucia, would have LOVED it: “Last time I was crossing the Atlantic….”)

There was an atmosphere of all round relief amongst the yachtsmen in Horta: 5 or 6 weeks before, at least 3 French boats had been lost mid-Atlantic en route to the Azores in an unforeseen storm, including a strong crew of 3 particularly experienced yachtsmen.  A week or 2 before us, there had also been bad weather and many breakages.  There is a real sense that every year, it is getting more and more dangerous to be out on the ocean.  Climate change is having a very real effect.  This year, the weather has been more unpredictable than ever.  (But maybe they say that every year!)


In due course, we said goodbye to Simon and welcomed Cally’s parents on board for what was intended to be a mini Azores cruise.  However, it was while we were in Horta that we received the sad news of Rob’s father’s death.   So, after a couple of days of touring around the island of Faial by land, we sailed overnight straight to Ponta Delgada (missing out Pico, Terceira, Sao Jorge and other gorgeous-looking islands along the way).  This was so Rob could fly home and everyone (including Rafiki) would end up in the right place for onward travel.  So, we have much unfinished business in the Azores and must revisit them some day!

Here are some pictures of what we did manage to see on Faial:


Our most interesting visit was to the Capelinhos area:  This region, on the western edge of the island, includes an extra 2.4k of land which was entirely created by the eruption of the Capelinhos volcano in 1957-8.  A huge amount of ash was deposited on the existing land, including around the old lighthouse, which is now located a fair way inland!  They have converted the lighthouse into a fascinating museum, which we all enjoyed immensely, exhibiting a film (in English) and a hologram showing how this edge of the island was formed, displays on lighthouses in Portugal and the various landscapes on the different Azorean islands as well as a wonderful collection of volcanic rocks and crystals.

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Flores, Azores (30th May – 1st June 2013)

Our first landfall after nearly 14 days at sea was in Flores.  We all agreed that Flores was very pretty, although for Simon, arrival in Flores after a long voyage was a bit of an anti-climax.  True, the island was very quiet and we were a bit disappointed that our expectations of lots of glorious European food were not met.  However, the Burches have got very used to visiting small islands in the middle of nowhere. We were just pleased to make landfall and happy to make the most of whatever this island had to offer – which was beautiful scenery, and – more, beautiful scenery!






The non-buzzing “metropolis”:



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