It’s Been a Funny Year

It’s been six months since we posted a new article on the website, and people are beginning to wonder: “Have they given up cruising?” “Maybe they sank…”
The answer is, no. Mollymawk is fine. Four-fifths of the family are still passionate about travelling under sail; and three-fifths of us still have the boat as our Primary Residence. The fourth fifth is on the point of investing in her own boat. But, despite this, the past year has been spent Not Cruising.

This past year, Caesar spent some months sailing to Antarctica – but neither Nick nor I did any sailing at all; and that is a lifetime first for both of us. What have we been up to instead?
“Oh, you know… This and that…”
Seriously! How can a family of dyed-in-the-wool cruising bums suddenly spend a year not hoisting the sails or weighing the anchor even once?
Well…. it happened thus:

One year ago we arrived in Valdivia after more than a year of travelling in the Chilean Channels. We came here, partly because it sounded like a nice place, but mostly because we needed to slip the boat.
The last time we slipped the boat was in 2008, in North Africa. In fact, before we came to Valdivia, that was the only time that we’d ever had the boat out of the water since her launch in the year 2000.

We hadn’t really meant to leave it so long before slipping again. We almost came out in Piriapolis, in Uruguay, in 2012. We got as far as moving the boat into the space below the travel lift – but then someone warned us that if you slip your boat here, you’re not allowed to do any welding. (And it goes without saying that a rufty-tufty steel boat is always going to need something welded).

After that, we tried the opposite side of the River Plate, in Argentina; but Mollymawk is heavier than most Argie boats, and there was nowhere with a crane which was man enough.
We went back up to Brazil and asked, first in Paranagua and then in Rio Grande – but, again, we were too big. In retrospect we should have detoured back up to Santos – Santos is where the big Antarctic charter yachts haul out – but we’d heard bad things about the city; and besides, we reckoned that we could press on south and slip the boat in Puerto Deseado.

It transpired that in Deseado there were no facilities for hauling the boat, but we were able to dry out against an old wooden quay. This allowed us to see just how much work needed doing below the waterline. We found that there were little rusty blisters all over the hull, and the anodes were eaten away. Or rather, twas actually the other way about, of course. The decay of the zinc anodes had encouraged the corrosion.

We tried to buy new anodes, but there were none to be had.
“Not to worry. We can haul out in Punta Arenas.”
A phone call to the boatyard in Punta Arenas quickly quashed that idea. Slipping there was well outside our budget.
We pressed on, regardless.
Well… not quite regardless. We had planned on taking Mollymawk down to Antarctica, but now we decided that, since she needed urgent attention, we must abandon that idea. Instead, we would hurry through the Beagle Channel and the Magellan Straits and the Pacific channels, and slip the boat, pronto.
And so it was that, two years later….. we finally slipped the boat in Valdivia.

It turns out that hurrying is a habit. If you abandoned the habit 40 years earlier – if you’ve never had to meet deadlines for a job or a mortgage repayment scheme or wot-not – then, basically, you lose the ability to hurry. The last time I had to meet a deadline was when my Geography teacher set us essays about some boring, faraway place called Brazil. (Did you know that the mainstay of Brazil’s economy is her shoe industry? There may also have been mention of cows, but I can’t recall any reference to the world’s biggest rainforest or the biggest river.) Nick abandoned hurrying when he was only a few years older than that, at the age of 23; and Caesar has never had to hurry. Meeting deadlines is one thing that I neglected to include in the Home School curriculum.
Have you ever been to West Africa, or some other place where the people live in a largely traditional manner? And have you ever observed the frustrating (to us) but (to them) very merry inefficiency with which those people deal with tasks such as building a boat or fetching water? Well, it seems to me that we Mollymawks have now attained this same level of incompetence.

This inability to order our time efficiently is also the chief reason for the fact that, having finally slipped the boat, and having eventually put her back in the water, we were still putting the interior back together six months later. However, there have also been other factors which hindered progress. Principle among the hindrances has been Brexit.

Two and a half years ago, I described how the result of the Brexit referendum had rocked our equilibrium:
Had we been drifting about on the ocean when it took place then we might have remained unmoved by this extraordinary débâcle – but only for so long as we remained out there. As it was, we were swept along on the current of events like a yacht struggling through heavy seas, and the final outcome was like a rogue wave smashing down on our vessel. Even two weeks afterwards, I still feel overwhelmed; I still feel devastated.”

Well, this feeling of devastation and dismay has never really left me, for, as we all know, Brexit has turned out to be an even bigger can of worms than we Europhiles predicted, and Britain is currently falling apart at the seams. How has this hindered progress aboard Mollymawk? Partly because it leaves me feeling alternately angry and depressed, but mostly because I’ve spent two to three hours each day, during the past year, fighting it.
Whatever they may or may not have wanted in June 2016, when Brexit was an undefined pie in the sky surrounded by rainbows and unicorns, it is now clear that the majority of the British people do not now want to leave the EU. Polls now show that, having seen what Brexit actually smells like, the British people want another say. Either that, or they just want Theresa May to cancel the whole damn thing, so that we can go back to whatever it was we were doing before that ghastly Black Friday.

Besides costing us time spent reading the latest news and writing e-mails to MPs, and so forth, Brexit also forced us to fly back to Britain – again.
Flying is this family’s biggest environmental sin. The WWF have an on-line quiz which enables the user to calculate his personal CO2 footprint; and since we don’t eat meat and don’t drive a car and don’t buy a lot of stuff, our footprint is always pretty small – until we have to add in a transatlantic flight. A two-way flight doubles the size of our annual footprint.
Even so, it had to be done. We are not about to give up our citizenship of Europe just because a bunch of greedy tycoons duped 52% of our fellow Britons into ticking the wrong box. Our plan is to become residents, and eventually citizens, of another EU country; and to that end we flew to Europe and spent three months searching for a place where we would fell at home.

We’ll have this place fixed up in no time, says Nick, as he takes the measurements for the carpet.

We ended up making an offer on a tiny ruin, but we’re also chasing a piece of land on an adjacent hillside. This land was formerly covered in native forest but has been ravaged by loggers. A year before our visit, the last vestiges of verdure were razed by a fire, so that the place now looks like a building site.
What do we want with such an ugly brown hillside?
Well, we want to replant it, of course! We want to create a forest garden, covering the naked soil and shale with with sweet chestnut, birch, and oak, and with fruit trees, walnuts, almonds, figs, and olives.

You’ve probably heard the story about the sailor who planted a garden. He tilled the soil and sowed the seed and watered the plants; and then, just when the crops was ready to harvest, the wind changed and he went back to sea. But that doesn’t matter, because the point is that he planted the garden!

Politics; our own incompetence – and one other thing, besides, has kept us from getting away from Valdivia. That thing is the Valdivianos. Never, in 30 years of travelling have we ever felt so much at home as we do in Chile; and never have we made as many friends as here, in this little riverside city.
Never have we known such fellowship as from the mixed gang of locals and ex-pats who are now our cherished Valdivian family.
Never have we been so warmly welcomed at a foreign yacht club.
Never has Caesar had so many pretty girlfriends…

Never have we found such a small place with such a big social calendar – the music is endless; the festivals are weekly; the bars overflow with hippy hospitality.
And speaking of bars – never have we found a place, outside of England, with such good, home-brewed beer.
Put it all together, and it’s little wonder that we’ve had at least three leaving parties. But the time has now come when we really have to cut the cords and go.

The first of several farewell parties, this one being a gathering of Valdivianos and cruising yotties in the local yacht club

The ocean is calling to us.
And the aduana are threatening. Two years is the maximum time that a foreign vessel may remain in Chile without a fine, and they’ve already very kindly allowed us five months more than our due.
So, today we’re off.
Today Mollymawk will unfurl her feathers and stretch her wings, and we’ll be off again, heading for the horizon.

When we wash up, on some other shore, we’ll do some catching up. We’ll tell you all about our electrolysis and corrosion and all about our new copper bottom. And we’ll add to our catalogue of articles about the Channels. We’ll bring you the latest tidings from the Ship’s Naturalist. We hope to be able to bring you news of Xoë and Gean, who are maybe, possibly, probably on the point of buying their own boat. And we’ll certainly tell you all about the ancient riverside port of Valdivia.

Until then, we wish you all safe and well and happy.


  1. Exiting !!!! We miss you all.
    Martin, Carlien, Marie and Bonnie

    1. What? What? Marie and Bonnie…? Glad to hear that they evidently arrived safely in the world.
      We’re looking forward to seeing you all again some day.

  2. Jill. I’ve been reading your posts for years and have been filled with admiration at the way you have brought up your family whilst being water gypsies.
    Not having heard word for so long I fear I was one of the unbelievers who feared you had sunk, literally or metaphorically. So glad you haven’t! I did remember though that way back you mentioned a small holding in Portugal was in the back of the mind. Now it really has happened. Excellent.
    I don’t of course know where in Portugal you have chosen but it all looks very familiar. We have old and close friends who have bought a patch of forest In the Leiria region. It is full of ancient house ruins, springs, waterways, tracks, old terraces full of ancient olive and orange trees. etc. Once home to a t least 50 people. Now none. They have slowly and carefully rebuilt 2 of the houses, and more are now underway. Everything is now off grid – hot water, solar electric, water wheel generator. Totally civilised and comfortable but with no bills on the mat. The great fire encircled them but amazingly they were unscathed. ( now with sprinkler systems – entirely home made, on every roof.) The whole thing has been done on a very tight budget. Friend is an electrical engineer, designer, wooden ship builder and long distance sailor, in addition to everything else.
    I take the liberty of suggesting that if you need some expert advice, he would be good to talk to, or even visit if you were not a million miles apart. He and his wife ( a native Spanish and now Portuguese speaker) are both the most generous and kind people who would be a mine of useful information on building, designing, planting and restoring native forest land and a great deal more.
    If this might be useful to you, do let me know and I will happily be the go between.
    Another useful thing. Friends assure me that you can throw a bus engine or a concrete mooring block oversides into the river above Lisbon and keep a boat there for nothing.( WHAT??? £ 20 per night to the Duchy of Cornwall for a one night moor for my cat in the west country. Villains. Crooks. Note to self. Live in Portugal!)

    Look forward to hearing from you when you next hit internet country.
    Mike .
    Dorset. UK

    1. That sounds very interesting indeed, Mike. We will certainly be in touch.

      As I write this, we’re sitting at anchor in the mouth of the river, awaiting a fair wind. After a year alongside, there doesn’t seem any sense in hurrying out to bash to and fro, particularly as we have two novice, Chilean crew with us.

      All the best to you,

  3. In the OCEAN model of personality traits O stands for openness to experience. Individuals high in this trait tend to be creative, be entrepreneurs, appreciate art, try different foods and experience different cultures. They tend to favour open borders. Individuals low in trait openness prefer familiar routines, avoid risk and tend to favour closed borders.

    Our personality traits are part genetic and part environmentally programmed and they don´t change much from childhood.

    I think this trait is at the heart of the dichotomy in the British population over Brexit with respect to the uncontrolled immigration issue.

    Just as in the case of Scotland, where the result was actually much clearer, whatever the final outcome of the attempt of the U.K. to leave the E.U., there will be a large minority (or a majority) of people who are vehemently opposed to the situation. Little will be resolved.

    Those fortunate to be high in trait openness have the option of setting themselves up elsewhere. Or nowhere.

    Are you certain though that Portugal will always be an EU member, or that the EU will exist in five or ten years? Portugal has a minority socialist government held in power by parliamentary agreements with Bloco de Esquerda and the Portuguese Communist Party, both of which are anti-EU, anti- euro currency and anti-NATO. They presently each take 8-10% of the vote in general elections. The PCP support is mostly in the older generations in the Alentejo. They campaign for a ´patriotic government of the left´ Bloco voters tend to be young, graduate professionals in the cities. The President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, races about kissing and hugging everybody as, he says, he is worried about the emergence of a populist politician in Portugal.

    Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission President, in his final state of the union address recently said that Europe is deeply divided from north to south, from east to west and from left to right.

    Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the ex Greek finance minister, has set up a pan European movement aimed at democratising the EU by 2025 to try to prevent what he sees as inevitable disintegration. and for info. Any committed europhile needs to get involved with this movement now.

    1. Thank-you for these thoughts, Ricardo – and I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get round to responding!

      Am I certain that the EU will still exist in ten years time? No. But I think that you will agree with me when I say that it is one of the best things that mankind has ever invented – it has brought both peace and prosperity to the region; and it has united the people in ways that the founders could never have dreamed possible – and thus I feel that it is very much worth fighting for.
      If Britain ‘brexits’, the chances of the EU holding together are greatly reduced, I fear. Therefore, in striving to avert the catastrophe of Britain’s withdrawal we are also working to save the whole.

      As for Portugal – Having not visited Portugal for many years we were amazed at the way in which the country is now truly unified with Europe. We were continually meeting people who had worked abroad – and I’m not just talking about business men. The estate agent who showed us various properties had lived for 20 years in Paris, and his kids had been born there, but we also met a mechanic, a labourer, and even a goatherd, each of whom who had lived and worked in another EU country. It seemed to be the norm. Pretty much everybody also had a brother or a sister or a child who was living and working in France or in England.

      When I asked the son of the estate agent whether he had French citizenship, he replied, “Yes, I guess so… but it’s irrelevant. We’re all European.”
      “DON’T SAY THAT!” I practically yelled. “Don’t take it all for granted! Look at what has happened in Britain!”
      But he was quite sure that nothing like Brexit could ever occur in Portugal.

      Who knows what the future holds for us all? Well… actually it’s pretty obvious that the planet is going up in flames, environmentally. We’ve been told by the UN scientists that we have just ten years to turn things around – and, of course, we aren’t even trying; so, climatically, we’re stuffed.
      This will inevitably have an effect on our politics. Indeed, personally I believe that fears and frustrations surrounding the issue of environmental collapse are the principal cause of stress in the current Western population; and I believe that this stress is the principal cause of the rise in ‘populism’ and fascism.
      So… I would say that the future looks grim on every front. As the matter currently stands, I still feel that I must carry on fighting until I drop down dead, and thus I’m grateful to you for sending me the link to Eventually, when it becomes clear that the battle cannot be won, Mollymawk will probably disappear into the sunset…….

      We feel very much drawn to Portugal, quite regardless of whether the country stays a member of the EU. I daresay it won’t survive the climatic apocalypse, but nevertheless we’d like to try to do our bit to give it a helping hand. Portugal needs trees!

      All the best to you,

  4. There is actually a lot of abandoned, unmanaged land in the interior of Portugal which contributes strongly to the ignition, proliferation and the propagation of the fires. After some very large fires in recent years, politically embarrassing in Lisboa, all land owners must now maintain the vegetation on their property within certain defined limits, under penalty of fines. If the landowner does not comply, then the local government is effectively fined instead. So, the camaras are incentivised to have someone take responsibility for the abandoned land in their district.

    In those friendly neighbours, only too eager to sell you their land and buildings, we recognise the age old opportunism of Zé Povinho. Hopefully your friends will come and buy all the other ruins in the area. Maybe some wine, some cheese? Tiago has an old carocha to sell.

    Since the last coup there has been an accelerating depopulation of the interior and a falling birthrate across the country, but especially outside of the main cities and the islands. There is a program of closing 400 schools per year due to the lack of pupils. I think the villagers are no less poor than before, in real terms, but then, at least they had the happy sound of children´s laughter to ease the burden of a life of toil. The fall in total fertility rate (children per woman in her fertile years) from 3.5 in 1974, to the present 1.3, has also produced a very rapidly ageing population, exascerbated by the advances in public healthcare, which have raised the mortality levels to those of northern Europe. Many of the remaining small landowners are old and physically/financially unable to keep ground vegetation controlled and to clear firebreaks to lower the fire risk. Their children have moved away to the cities or have emigrated. Portugal does not have viable pension provision. `Tal é, o preço por que os portugueses terão de pagar para as suas illusões de liberdade,´ as someone once wryly commented.

    Of course, this means that the Portuguese government, like most countries in Europe, is actively encourageing immigration of both european working age people and the retired with money to spend. More so if they are willing to locate themselves in the interior.
    The following site has a lot of information on the situaton with the forests, in English, from foreigners living in the area affected by the large, intense fires of 2017.

    This one has a vivid expression in poetry and prose of female anxiety (also English), surviving the October 2017 fire.

    1. Thank-you for this, Maria. Some very insightful comments there, and some good reading.

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