We have been on our catamaran, Footprints, for half a year now. It seems like a good mark to summarize the trip, and how I find life as a live-aboard family.
We started the year in Cyprus. Looking back, we were definitely a bit too casual about starting to sail, as we spent almost 8 weeks firmly tied to the dock in the little harbour of Latchi. The excuse was that we had lots of jobs to do, to make Footprints more comfortable for our needs, and we weren’t too keen on heading north into a European winter.
We did get some stuff done, like a holding tank for our black water (sewerage) and a small geyser installed for hot water, but we didn’t do a lot of things that we ended up doing later.
At the end of February, we headed for the Easternmost island of Greece, Kastellorizo. A beautiful little port, but very economically depressed. That crossing was hard for me – I was seasick for most of the 30 hour journey, and simply took to my bed. I didn’t get up until we were tied up at the dock again.
The seasickness has abated as we’ve spent more time on the water. I still get occasional bouts of nausea, but not often and only if I’m down below too much in rolling seas. We anchor out in bays most of the time now, rather than tie up at a dock, so I’ve had to acclimatize to a moving boat!
From Kastellorizo, we went to Symi. Another gem of an island, and we met a lovely ex-South African couple who have settled in Symi. They invited us to supper, and showed us amazing hospitality. We had our first big repair job in Symi, with an engine exhaust that looked like a colander. Kris found a stainless steel welder, and they patched up the exhaust sufficiently to work again. No spare parts were possible on an island as small as Symi, so we repaired the exhaust as best possible, and hoped it would hold up.
Then we made a dash for the Corinth canal, aiming at using some favourable weather. We didn’t quite make it before the wind turned, and we spent the last few hours motoring upwind at a snail’s pace. We eventually reached the canal around midnight, and Kris set our anchor and collapsed asleep.
Next morning, we forked out the Eu200 required to go through the Corinth canal, and then enjoyed the short 4 km journey, escorted by the canal coast guard. Corinth itself was an uninspiring town, reminding me irresistibly of one of those towns like Krugersdorp or Randfontein. Semi-industrial, large without really having good shops, busy but soulless.
The main plus was that Corinth was a simple one hour train journey from Athens airport, and I met our friend Steve at the airport and brought him back to the boat to join us for 10 days. We headed off westwards along the Corinth gulf, to a town called Itea. We tied up at the dock, and were told by a helpful local that Itea wasn’t very nice, and we should move to the next town, Galaxidi. We took his advice!
Galaxidi was charming, but they were gearing up for a week-end long festival. This included giant speakers along the dock, blasting out tired pop songs at pain levels until the early hours of each morning. We escaped the town in the day for sight seeing, but the music was very tiring by the 3rd (and last) day. Still, we were glad to have stayed and seen the festivities.
Highlights of the sight seeing were a trip to the Delphi ruins, and a day at the ski resort of Parnassos. Delphi was fascinating, much larger than I had imagined, and well preserved yet accessible. The skiing was just good fun – Aidan is a competent snowboarder, and I’m good enough on skis for medium slopes. It was fun to break away from the boat, and just be tourists on holiday.
Aidan was due to go back to SA for Easter to see his dad, with Steve as chaperon for the trip. However, business at our software company was not going well, and I decided to accompany Aidan and Steve back to SA too. We abandoned Kris on the boat, and went back to help at the company. I’ve posted about our new venture earlier, but the end result was that the company is doing better now, and we have some exciting new options ahead of us all.
Aidan and I got back to Footprints 3 weeks later. Kris had hauled her out of the water, and was doing more essential repairs in a boatyard in Preveza. She’d developed an 8 litre per hour leak during our voyage, which is a lot of water to pump out hourly. We’d been monitoring our leak carefully, and it had stayed at that rate and hadn’t worsened. Still, it was good to see the new fibreglass repair, and know that we didn’t have to constantly listen out for the bilge pump working!
We agreed to stay on in the boatyard for an extra 2 weeks, and do some cosmetic work on her too. Footprints is a 20-year old boat, and her gel coat is rather yellowed and dull. We weren’t going to paint, but we could at least clean and wax the decks. Kris also did more engine maintenance during this time, including replacing the welded exhaust.
Finally, looking significantly spiffier than before, Footprints was back on the water. We headed south for Lefkada island, determined to have some fun after all our hard work. Lefkada was another beautiful island. Popular, lots of tourism, with stunning beaches and inland villages.
We hired scooters for a day, and rode all round the island. Aidan rode pillion with Kris, and unfortunately, Kris lost the front wheel around a low speed bend, leaving them both with numerous scratches. Aidan didn’t fare too badly, as he jumped as the scooter fell, and he even ran back and lifted the bike off Kris. I’m always proud of my boy, but I was particularly proud of him for worrying about Kris before himself, and pleased that he is strong enough to be able to pick up a scooter, assisted only by adrenalin!
We spent a couple of weeks around Lefkada island, going from one pretty anchorage to the next. Eventually, it was time to head north, as we wanted to get to Corfu by late May. Our route took us past Preveza again, where we lingered for a few days and even went to a particularly good museum. We’d been too busy with boat repairs the previous time we were in the area!
Then up to Igoumenitsa, which was remote and unspoiled. A nice contrast after all the tourist buzz of Lefkada.
As we had a week spare, we decided to head past Corfu and visit Albania. It hasn’t been that many years since Albania allowed tourists in, and the vibe is very different from Greece. Lots of apartment blocks declare the communist past of Albania, as well as the stares we attracted walking around. They are definitely not used to many visitors! Prices were cheap, and Kris loved the fresh fish and produce market in Saranda. Poor weather made us cut short our visit, and we left for Corfu after a few days.
I had a second visit to SA planned, all still to do with the business. Kris and Aidan bid me a teary farewell at the airport, and they went off to explore on their own for 2 weeks. I flew via London, which was an awesome excuse to do the kind of shopping that one just does not do on a boat! We have so little storage space (and we live in shorts and T-shirts), that nice clothes just don’t figure in our boat life. I bought shoes, a lovely cashmere jersey, and tons of chocolates, and got to Heathrow footsore and tired for my flight to Cape Town.
The business trip went fantastically well, and 2 weeks later I was headed back to Corfu. I’d done all my shopping in SA this time, and had a suitcase full of goodies for Kris and Aidan. Lots of fun reuniting with my family, and unpacking all the gifts.
This was 2 weeks ago, and since then we’ve done a complete circumnavigation of Corfu. Sarida, on the north coast, was particularly lovely, with the most gorgeous sandstone cliffs, and lots of caves to explore. Great swimming, and Aidan has gained in confidence with each swim we’ve taken. He was scared of deep water, but now jumps happily off the boat and swims with me in the sea, looking down through the crystal clear waters to watch the fish swim below us.
I’m now used to this life. I love falling asleep with the gentle movement of the water rocking the boat. We have a good internet connection on the boat (via 3G) and we easily stay in touch with friends and colleagues.
Aidan is a little bit lonely, as he misses his school friends. We haven’t met as many boat families as I’d hoped, and when we do, they don’t always speak English! At least Aidan will be going back to SA to see his dad in August, and he’ll race his beloved karts, and get a chance to catch up with his friends. Aidan has written a blog post each week, and I’ve seen him grow so much in his writing style. It is also great to see the trip through Aidan’s eyes, and I think his blog will be a great record of the trip in future years.
I’ve never been fond of cooking, but I quite enjoy preparing simple meals in our galley. We only have a 2-plate gas stove, and an oven that doesn’t really get hot enough to be useful, so you have to do things that don’t need lots of pots or intensive preparation. Aidan has also learned to cook, and he contributes at least one dinner a week for the family. He’s very capable in the galley, and claims that he makes the best spaghetti bolognese of all of us!
We really do eat well. We eat a lot of fresh market produce, buy good meat from local butcheries and even get our fish from the fishing boats. We all have very healthy appetites, but I continue to lose weight due to the active lifestyle we lead.
Aidan is doing grade 5 on the boat, but we are battling a bit to keep up. There isn’t that much work, but there are lots of distractions! It’s hard to concentrate on school work when the temperatures go above 30 degrees C, and the sparkling blue water outside looks so inviting!
I promised a summary, and I guess the question is: would I recommend this to other families? That’s a resounding Yes! If you ever get a chance to live on a boat, and travel to interesting places, you have to jump at the opportunity and go. I don’t think I can sustain this level of healthy living back in suburbia, especially in crime-ridden South Africa.
We love our freedom: freedom from crime, freedom from rules, freedom from timetables. This is the half way mark – we are going to enjoy all the time left of this year, as it sure is going past fast!