Saturday, 28 March 2020

Diary of living aboard under lockdown - CV Week 2

SUNDAY 22 MARCH 2020 - SATURDAY 28 MARCH 2020 (Week 2)

We decided on a change of format this week,  mainly because we weren't doing enough to warrant a day by day account of our life in lockdown.  If we were bored of trying to find something interesting to write about,  then readers would be even more bored reading it. So, here are the highs and the lows of Week 2 in lockdown.

It seems that since we have been in lockdown the weather has decided to reflect the mood of the country.  

The week started with high winds and rain and by Monday we had thunderstorms thrown into the mix too (called tormentas in Spain, love that word!). The wind was howling, the boat was rocking from the swell of the waves and the heavens opened up.  After a week of wind and rain we were getting cabin fever.

Pantalan 2
Our back garden!
I decided that for my own sanity I needed to get back to my running and walking regime, if for nothing else but to stop me going stir crazy. So, on with the trainers and up and down the pontoon I went.  I think people on the boats on the next pontoon thought I was mad, but I didn't care, it felt good to be out in the fresh air doing something.  Mark and I also try and do at least 10,000 steps a day (that's 100 lengths of the pontoon!) just to keep the circulation going and get some fresh air and he's now joining in with running as well.

Mark has also been trying his luck with fishing. One of the plus sides of the weather is that it supposedly brings sea bass in at sunset. So, with new lures on the line, he's been fishing off the side of the boat.   He hasn't caught anything yet, but he's been honing his skills for when we can set sail and want to catch fish for supper. He's also been busy with his online virtual regatta. He's really enjoying the challenge of sailing in the Pacific and it's good fun having a few friends in the race as well.  I'm not so sure though when he's up at 5am checking the wind and his position on his phone!

By Wednesday the weather had started to improve, but the sea was still as wild as anything.  From Offbeat we could hear the waves crashing against the breakwater so walked to the end of the pontoon to have a look.  Wow, what a sight as they came crashing over the wall.  At the same time we saw a small fishing boat heading out of the marina and we both held our breath as it made it's way gingerly through the entrance.  Once through, the engine roared and off it went to get its daily catch.

Thursday and the sun was shining, the westerly Poniente wind was blowing warm air so it was time to do a few jobs outside.  Washing done, dried and put away, I got on with washing down the decks.  The rain and wind of the last week had brought with an enormous amount of red dust so this needed cleaning off and as it gets in the ropes as well, they needed hosing down too.  Mark got busy washing and rinsing the ropes that we were using for mooring as they were covered in salt as well as red dirt.  

The day was rounded off with a beautiful sunset, clear sky and the sound of applause, music, flashing lights and sirens as at 8pm every evening people go onto their balconies to thank those that are keeping the country going.  Although there's only us on the pontoon, we join in too, Mark with his cow bell (oh how he enjoys this) and me with my flashing torch!

Living in your own little world on a boat, it's very easy to isolate yourselves away from what is going on in the rest of the world, so keeping abreast of the news in Spain is important to us and we check online news outlets on a daily basis.  On Wednesday it was confirmed that as the number of new cases of Coronavirus illness and deaths continues to rise in Spain, the country would extend lockdown until at least Saturday 11 April 2020.  

At the time of writing the blog on Saturday evening there have been 72,248, confirmed Coronavirus cases and 5,690 confirmed deaths. The Spanish government announced that all non-essential workers have now been ordered to stay at home. Its worrying that there are ever increasing restrictions to try and stem the spread of this disease.

I wanted to end this week's blog on a high and what better way than to share how we keep in touch with our loved ones.  WhatsApp, Facebook and Messenger all play a big part in our lives at the moment and keeps us in regular contact with our nearest and dearest.  It always brightens our day when we get photos or videos of the grandchildren and their latest antics.  My latest means of communication is Houseparty, an app that allows you to video call with a number of people at the same time. The highlight of the week was, using this app, having all the grandchildren video calling at the same time.  It was mayhem but reminded us of what normality is for our family! 

Family time on
Mother's Day

Millie self isolating!

Olivia and Finlay digging the garden!

Monday, 23 March 2020

Diary of living aboard under lockdown - CV Week 1

Mark and I have been keeping a close eye on the developments of Coronavirus-19 (CV) for the best part of the week.  It was brought further to the front of our minds today when some very close friends who were due to go to England on Thursday cancelled their flights as they didn't feel it was safe to travel.
CV was something lurking in the background of our lives. We had read all about the devastation it had caused in China and Italy,  but as we watched the number of cases rise in Spain (second highest outbreak in Europe after Italy) we started to realise that the virus was getting closer to us. With confirmed cases in La Linea and Marbella, both 20 miles either side of Estepona, it was only a matter of time before CV would affect our lives too.
Thursday afternoon was the first inkling that radical action would be taken.  The Regional Government of Murcia announced that they were closing schools and colleges, banning the gathering of large crowds and recommended the closure of bars and restaurants. 
By Thursday evening the Catalunia region and Madrid had followed suit,  requesting that residents only leave their homes if it urgent or essential to do so. 
Based on our experience of Spain, we knew that it would only be a matter of time before the Regional Government of Andalucia did the same.  It was clear that the autonomus governments were taking matters into their own hands and not waiting for central government to make decisions for them. 

This was unchartered territory for us and we didn't know how it was going to pan out so, that evening, we made plans for all eventualities. 

Cases 5,232  Deaths 133

We didn't have to wait long.  

Friday morning we had an announcement from the Junta de Andalucia (Regional Government of Andalucia) that all schools and public services would be suspended until the end of the month.   By Friday evening they had further recommended that commercial and leisure establishments close and people stay at home. 
At this stage, these were recommendations and could not be enforced.  That would involve the central Government of Spain approving a State of Alarm by Royal Decree. 
Life in Estepona carried on as normal though. Bars and restaurants were still open, the port area still had tourists milling around, the fishing boats were still motoring in and out with their catches and boats were still enjoying the freedom of going in and out of the marina. 
We had decided on Thursday night that we would get some provisions in, just in case. We don't have the room at the moment to store lots of food, so no panic buying for us, just the weekly shop.
Luckily the Spanish don't do panic buying either. The culture is very much buy fresh on the day or for a few days, so the shelves were stocked and there was plenty for everyone.   It helped that supermarkets were one of the commercial businesses that were excluded from recommended closure so families knew that whatever happened in the next few days or weeks, food would still be available. 

Mark spoke to his mum and his sister, Jo about flying to England in case his mum needs help in the coming weeks. It really brought home the seriousness of the situation when the concensus was agreed that it was more dangerous to risk infecting her than it could be helpful.

Cases 6,391   Deaths 196
News spreads of central Government meeting today to discuss approving and implementing a State of Alarm.  They will be meeting in the afternoon and many Spanish friends see it as just a formality of rubber stamping the resolution.  However, given that it's a hung parliament, nothing is ever that simple.  
Whilst awaiting the news, we carried on with normal life.
We headed off to finish the last of the shopping (most important,  beer and wine which I couldn't carry yesterday). Our local supermarket is still fully stocked, but is considerably busier, most likely because news of recommended closures has filtered down and because it's the weekend.  People were taking it very seriously in the supermarket and respecting the 2 meter distance. As one lady explained,  she has an elderly parent live with her and so cannot take the risk of people getting close and potentially picking up the virus. 
Back from the supermarket and the first of our visitors arrive.  We haven't had anybody on the boat for weeks, and then as soon as it's isolation time, people have time on their hands and want to visit!
First off were Pedro and Tanya, a lovely young couple who have a boat on the next pontoon.  Unfortunately a couple of weeks ago when they were trying to moor their boat, their bow was caught by a strong gust of wind and went down the side of Offbeat.  There wasn't too much damage, just a bit of polishing and buffing needed so they came over to do the work.  Work completed,  they stayed about an hour chatting about life on board and the wonders of sailing.  Pedro also gave us the heads up on where to go dolphin watching. 
Next up was our friend Isaac who had been to check his boat and asked Mark to help him on a little job.  After coffee and a good chat, they headed off to Isaac's boat to complete the job.
Closure notice on the bar next to the marina
Meanwhile on the marina front, there were still a few bars and restaurants open, doing business. However,  by late afternoon they had all closed, washed down, pinned notices on doors and sent staff home.  Armageddon had arrived!

We decided that if this was how it was going to be for the next couple of weeks, we might as well get on with some jobs.  First up, seeing if the outboard engine worked so that we can sell it. 

Mark entertaining the marina 

Yep, it sort of worked and Mark provided entertainment for the marina as well! He thinks that the carburetor needs cleaning. Another job for the to do list.

SUNDAY 15 MARCH 2020 - Day 1
Cases 7,988 Deaths 294
Reading the news online, we find out that after a seven hour meeting and a series of delays, the Spanish Prime Minister announced the conditions of the State of Alarm that had been approved and that had gone into immediate effect.
The Prime Minister confirmed that people would be required to stay home and that all non-essential shops would close, along with bars, restaurants, cafes and cinemas.  Supermarkets, small food shops, pharmacies and petrol stations were among those that could remain open. 
The marina was eerily quiet.  Usually on a Sunday morning we hear soft noise as market stall holders set up for the day.  Estepona has a very popular and lively market on a Sunday that attracts a lot of visitors,  not just to the market but to surrounding bars, restaurants and cafes. 
This Sunday there was nothing, no noise at all. No distant murmur of chatter or vehicles, no noisy conversations coming from the local fish restaurant and most notably,  no people. It was like a ghost town. All that was needed was tumble weed blowing down the street! 

MONDAY 16 MARCH 2020 - Day 2
Cases 9,942 Deaths 342

One of the things we do on a daily basis first thing in the morning is to check the weather. Not only was the news of Coronavirus in Spain grim, the weather forecast for the foreseeable future was grim too!

Heavy rain and strong winds were predicted to arrive Tuesday morning so Monday was a day of preparing for a long week ahead.

The dinghy had to be stowed, cockpit and fore deck cleared, mooring lines adjusted cockpit tent secured and clothes washed, aired and put away.

Jobs done, we spent quite a while reading up on 'lockdown in Spain' to find out what it would mean for the ordinary people.  Basically  it meant that unless you were going to the supermarket, pharmacy, petrol station, laundrette or pet store, you were not allowed to leave your home.

Monday morning saw the closure of all parks and beaches, not just in Estepona but across the whole of Spain.  The police helicopter was active as well, flying up and down the coastline probably to make sure no one was breaking the law.  On the spot fines of up to €600 could be given to anyone found breaking the law, and the Spanish police don't do negotiation, so best to stay in.

Closer to home, the marina announced that it would be closed to the public but if you needed help or assistance the marineros would still be on hand to help. 

We were also hearing stories of marinas being closed to passing yachtsman although this wasn't actually confirmed until Wednesday. 

On reflection it was a strange day. It is very easy to get caught up in your own little world when living on a boat, life can be a bit surreal but reading information on the internet brought home to us just how vulnerable we can be to the virus as well. The one good side though is that for us, isolation means being the only boat users on our pontoon, living behind a locked gate and having sea views

TUESDAY 17 MARCH 2020 - Day 3
Cases 11,826  Deaths 533

I woke up in the morning feeling terrible. I had a sore throat and a really heavy head but thankfully no temperature. 

As the weather was due to turn on Tuesday I called a duvet day and went back to bed where I read and slept on and off for most of the day.

Mark is keeping watch on a few boats for friends that are either in England or locked down in Spain, so with bad weather forecast he headed off to check on the boats. He also ventured a trip to the supermarket for soup and fresh bread.

As predicted, the wind and rain arrived.  When you're on the boat and you hear the rain lashing down and the wind whistling in the rigging you can either feel exhilarated or thoroughly miserable.  For me it was the latter, but for Mark he was exhilarated. Although the wind can be very unpredictable, he loves that about life on a boat whereas I'm not a great lover of surprises, especially in these sort of conditions. 

We both realised that if we were to get through lockdown with our sanity in tact, we needed to find things to do, other than just maintenance jobs.

Mark's escape has come in the form of a virtual regatta that he's joined. It is a race from Panama to Chile via the Galapagos islands. The sailing is done in realtime and based on current weather conditions. Whilst not the real thing, it does test you navigating skills to try and get the best course for your boat.  As a number of his friends are also in the race it's getting rather competitive!

For me, I want to focus on learning Spanish and doing some research on the Spanish Civil War.  I've never really bothered with either of these things before, but now, being in Spain and making connections with my Spanish family I feel it's important to speak to them in their language and to gain a better understanding of what my Dad went through all those years ago.

We headed off to bed early, shore in the knowledge that it wasn't going to be a restful night, given the predicted winds would be near gale force. But, there was a sense of reassurance when we heard two marineros walking along the pontoon chattering away as they checked all the boats. It gave a sense of normality and comfort to the unknown world we were now living in.

WEDNESDAY 18 MARCH 2020 - Day 4
Cases 14,769 Deaths 638

Sure enough, by 2am we were woken by the sound of something dramatically flapping in the wind. 

Mark got up to take a look and sure enough, the Genoa on the boat opposite us had come loose, the wind had caught it and the boat was preparing to set sail! After a quick call to the marineros, Mark headed off to sort it out.

Boy were those marineros on the ball. They were there immediately and together they sorted out the sail. I was on the foredeck keeping watch and capturing the events on video!

Drama over, we had a cup of tea and took some time for the adrenaline to fade. It's reassuring to know that no matter what time of day it is or what the weather is like, there are people around to help.

The wind and rain continued for the rest of the day, so it was another day of pottering about in the boat and keeping up to date with developments in Spain and by now the UK too.

In Spain, nearly all tourists had left. In Andalucia all hotels were closed on Tuesday, TUI and Easyjet had cancelled all flights to and from Malaga and Ryanair had cancelled 80% of flights.  The British Foreign Office were advising not to travel and the spectacular processions that take place during Easter week had been cancelled across the province including Malaga and Seville.   

This would have a huge impact on the economy with an estimated €5.5 billion lost in tourism.  

In other news, areas of Andalucia were put on Amber weather warning alert as forecasters predicted a return to winter conditions on Thursday with a possible Gota Fria (cold drop).  

THURSDAY 19 MARCH 2020 - Day 5
Cases 18,077  Deaths 831

Feeling a lot better and with the weather a bit calmer, I decided to take a walk up to the small supermarket for some bread and a few bits.  I would do the big shop at the large supermarket on Friday. 

As it was quite a nice morning I thought I'd stretch my legs and go the long way, which involves walking along the marina front, up a small hill and then walk back on yourself along the main road. 

Wrong decision. 

As I'm walking along the front past all the closed restaurants the police helicopter decides to fly over looking for all the naughty people who are not obeying the rules. 

I don't think much of it and carry on walking, along the road and then up the hill.  At which point a police car comes along.

Oh s**t thinks me and yes, the car stops.

The young policeman (who looked about 12) winds down his window and goes to speak. But, I get in first, waving my bags in his face and saying very loudly in Spanish "el supermercado", "el supermercado". The poor boy looks terrified, puts the window up and waves me off. 

I'm still not sure whether it was because of my perfect Spanish or the manic look in my eyes.  Needless to say, I took the quickest route back.

Meanwhile in the news, the Andalucian Government announced a €1000 million package of support to businesses and the self-employed whose work has been affected by Coronavirus and photos were published of the Gota Fria that hit the Sierra Nevada and Ronda!

Sierra Nevada 

Road from Ronda to San Pedro 

We've also been keeping an eye on what's happening in the UK as we both have family there.  Mark is in regular contact with his mum and sister Jo and I'm in  regular contact with my girls.  I think for them it's worse as there are a lot of statements coming out from the British government but for now, it's only advice and people will do what they want to do.  At least in Spain it is very clear what you can and cannot do.

FRIDAY 20 MARCH 2020 - Day 6
Cases 21,571  Deaths 1,093

Highlight of the day was going to the supermarket!

SuperSol Estepona 
Unlike the pictures that we've seen of supermarkets in England, our supermarket was fully stocked and very civilised.  Customers were asked to put gloves on and sanitise their hands upon entering and everyone kept a respectful distance.

Meanwhile Mark was busy in the engine room, fitting a fan that cools down the engine room.  This will be a godsend in summer when it is already unbearably hot at night and you've got the heat of the engine as well.  He's also been improving storage in the aft cabin and we can now hang things out of the way instead of just piling them on top of each other.

News wise the Andalucian Government announced checkpoints being set up on major roads in and out of the region to crackdown on the number of people undertaking non-essential travel and to stop those trying to get to summer homes in the province.

SATURDAY 21 MARCH 2020 - Day 7
Cases 25,496  Deaths 1,381

Early hours saw the return of the rain and this time it came down with a vengeance and was relentless all day.  I later found out that Estepona had 56mm of rain in 24 hours, the second highest recorded level in the region.

Moroccan Chicken, Cous Cous,
Aubergine and Chickpea bites and Banana Cake
It turned into one of those days where you just hunker down and bake. So, whilst I was baking Mark was trying to catch up on his sailing regatta as he'd fallen behind over the last day.

Reflecting back over the first week of 'lockdown' it hasn't been too bad. I really thought that I would go stir crazy as I don't cope well being cooped up for too long.  I knew mark would be ok as he quite enjoys solitude and pottering around.  When we were living on the anchor last summer he could quite happily go days without going ashore whereas I got very tetchy after the first day.

With regards to the virus, things in Spain have got predictably worse over the course of the week.  Even so, the number of confirmed cases from last Sunday rose by 17,508 and the number of deaths increased by 1,087.  Looking at the trajectories published, Spain is on course to eclipse Italy, which would put it at the second highest country in the world. That's scary and that's what is keeping people indoors and out of harm's way.

That and harrowing stories that are now coming out. One poor woman in Madrid lost both her parents within 15 days of each other.  Both died alone with no family beside them and the family being unable to say a proper goodbye to them.  There will be no family funeral and no family wake.  In a country where family is everything,  this is truly heartbreaking to read.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Unpredictable January

January 2020

January was a funny old month, quite unpredictable, very much like the weather. 

After the celebrations of New Year and Kings Night, we cracked on with some of the jobs we've got on our never ending list for Offbeat's winter  maintenance.  For those that own boats, you will appreciate how overwhelming that maintenance list can be.  With only about 11 weeks to go before we plan to set sail on our summer adventure and to save our sanity we've broken it down into three categories: absolutely must do before we leave; nice to do if we have time; no hope in hell! There are still a lot of jobs to do before we leave, but at least it feels 'do able' now.

January wasn't solely a month of work, there was quite a bit of play too.  

Donna and Teresa
Wine had been consumed! 
My dear friend Donna and her husband Michael arrived in Estepona in the middle of January. They are currently touring Spain in their camper van, so stopped over to spend some time here.  It was lovely to see them again and to spend time catching up.  We lunched at one of our favourite restaurants overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean and then, with the sun beating down on us, we walked along the prom into Estepona to show them our beautiful town.

Unfortunately I didn't get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked as the next day I headed back to England to surprise my daughter Alex who would turn 30 on the 18th January.

The Birthday Girl

This is where the internet really came into it's own. I was able to arrange a surprise party for Alex all via the internet.  Food booked via Marks and Spencer and everything else via Amazon. It all worked perfectly and we had a wonderful little party with family and friends.  I was completely amazed that everyone kept the surprise party and my homecoming a secret and as expected, there were tears!

The Family

Girls Reunited! 

Anma with her precious little ones!

It was only a flying visit and I headed back to Spain on the Sunday, but I had a great time catching up with family, my girls and my beautiful little people.

Back in Spain and I came home to find Mark had done his back in again. He says it was from lifting the dinghy, but I do wonder if partying with Donna and Michael in my absence may have contributed! 

By Wednesday he was in so much pain that he booked to see an Osteopath who was recommended by our friend Isaac. I have to say he was very good. Mark went in bent over and hobbling in pain but came out upright and walking normally. Mark has had three more sessions and is now a lot better.

Storm hits Estepona and Offbeat
Storm hits Javea promenade 
One of the things that is very unpredictable this time of year in Spain is the weather.  Wednesday was beautiful sunshine, but Thursday saw the start of the storms that would last for a few days. We were lucky in Estepona, we got off quite lightly compared to other parts of the country that were hit by gale force winds, thunderstorms and torrential rain.  A record wave of 15 metres was recorded in Mallorca (the height of a tower block) and there was extensive damage all along the Spanish coastline.  Saddest part of all was eleven people died in the storms.

Closer to home and Malaga was caught by a freak hailstorm,  which dumped just under 1 metre of hailstones in the city.  We did have hailstones in the marina too, with a very fine layer covering the deck of Offbeat, but they soon melted.

The one good thing about the storms was that it cleaned down the decks.  I had been sanding the hatches and there was residue sand on deck but it disappeared with the rain and I was saved the job of scrubbing the decks!

By Sunday calm had descended and we took time out from working on Offbeat to go out to sea with our friends Richard and Edita on their boat. After 4 days of foul weather and confined to Offbeat we were a bit stir crazy so although it wasn't too warm at sea, the sun shone and the breeze blew away the cobwebs.

Normality resumes!

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Celebrations, coffee and chores!

Sunday 12 January 2018

The last week has been a mixture of fun and work.

The start of the week saw us celebrating Kings Night - 'El Noche de Reyes ' - on Sunday evening. Still suffering  from Christmas illnesses compounded by our, umm, enthusiastic New Year celebrations, we were not able to watch the grand parade in Estepona,  where twenty or more floats distribute 14 tons of sweets to waiting children and adults. We joined in the processions last year and know that they are great fun, but this year we celebrated on board Offbeat and listened to the celebrations going on around us.

Kings Night is a big thing in Spain, equivalent to Christmas Eve in England and most towns and villages in Spain will have a parade, which will end with children giving letters to the Three Kings, letting them know they've been good and what presents they would like.  Children then leave their shoes outside the home so that the Kings know where to stop and leave their presents.

Feeling better on Monday we joined our good friends Edita and Richard and their friends for Kings Day, the equivalent of Christmas Day in England.  Kings Day is a bank holiday in Spain and is the traditional day for having a sumptuous meal and giving presents.  We were blessed by having lovely warm weather so were able to enjoy drinks on the patio before lunch.

After a superb lunch we shared presents, ate far too much Roscon de Reyes cake (Kings Cake) and drank too much port and brandy.  The cake is ring shaped and decorated like a crown, topped with fruit and bursting with either vanilla or chocolate cream.  Buried inside the sponge is a figurine of a tiny king and it brings good luck to the person who finds it. We were rather greedy and ate two cakes, with Richard and Mark finding the Kings, so they wore the crowns!

Next day and it was back to work on Offbeat, but first a bit of planning for our summer cruise.  We have agreed that this summer we will leave Estepona at the beginning of April and head back to the Balearics where we will continue part 2 of our original plan.  Assuming we don't get sidetracked again, we plan to go to Menorca, Sardinia, Corsica and then back to Mallorca where our grandchildren will join us.  We will then head back to Estepona for September when we will meet up with  Mark's family.

With this in mind, we're both conscious that there's only 11 weeks till our planned departure date, so time to crack on. But first, there's friends to see and fishing to be done. So, I met my friend Elizabeth for coffee and croissants before she returned to Switzerland.   We had a relatively early start and with very few people about, we had a lovely long walk along the seafront. It was so warm and calm, it was one of those 'ahhhh' days.

Later in the day Mark went to sea with his friend Isaac in Polaris.  As it was still calm weather there wasn't any sailing to be had, but fishing to be done instead.  Having watched a beautiful sunset, they came back empty handed, they did have a couple of bites but they got away. So, next day off we go to the fishing shop to get new lures and stronger fishing line.  Maybe better luck next time!

And so onto chores. This week we've sanded down, varnished and painted woodwork, washed and dried sails, washed and waterproofed the tent that gives us a sort of conservatory and refurbished the lockers that hold our gas tanks for cooking. Doesn't sound a lot, but prepping for this sort of work is very time consuming and sometimes takes longer than the job itself, especially when you're preparing woodwork or if you have to cut half a dozenscrews to the exact length needed. 

Although there is still work to be done to get Offbeat ready for the summer, it does feel like we're getting there and whilst it may feel like all work and not much play at the moment, if our summer plans come to fruition, we'll have 24 weeks of playtime in glorious weather and spectacular locations. 

Sunday, 5 January 2020

New Year, New Decade!

4 January 2020

Happy new year to everyone who reads our blog. We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and a new year to remember as we start a new decade.

At this time of year I tend to reflect on the year gone by and wow, what a year it has been. We sailed to lots of new and exciting places, connected with the Spanish family that I never knew I had, strengthened our bond with Estepona and the friends that we have made here, shared our life and home with family and friends who came to visit and built this whole experience together with love, Mark and me. 

Excited bunnies!
There were so many stand out moments that it's hard to pin down which one would define 2019, but if I had to pick one it would be bringing two of our three grandchildren to Spain for a weeks holiday. The joy and excitement on their faces when the aeroplane took off from Stansted will stay with me forever.  We had such a great time when they were with us and we really missed them when they returned home. 

Since arriving in Estepona in October we have been busy with working on Offbeat as well as travelling and visiting family and friends in England.

Highlights from our Ceuta trip
In October we joined our good friends Edita and Richard for the annual Real Club Nautico de Estepona sailing rally to Ceuta in North Africa. Unfortunately it was light winds, but at least that means calm seas. Our return journey through the Straits of Gibraltar  (one of the busiest shipping lanes in Europe) was in thick fog! But we managed to dodge the ships and later, when the sun burnt the fog away, our endurance was rewarded by a visit from dolphins.

Anma and Grandad day care in
Rendlesham Forest
Later in October we headed back to England for a week. It was wonderful seeing everyone again and catching up on family life.

We took the grandchildren to Rendlesham forest for the day where we played on the zipline, explored the forest and looked for deer but found hundreds of mushrooms instead.  Oh and built a den out of fallen branches.

Family in Tolox
In November we met my brother Glen and his wife Claire in Malaga and together we visited our family in Tolox. We met new members of the family and the welcome and love we received made me realise why my Dad always yearned to return to his village and whilst he never made it, I can ensure his memory continues to live on with our new family.

Mystical Sierra Bermeja
December and we had two trips into the Sierra Bermeja - the mountains just to the north of Estepona. First was with our friends Edita and Richard to Venta el Refugio which is a beautiful rustic restaurant at the top of the Sierra Bermeja, 1800 metres above sea level. Climbing the mountain in the car, we were treated to spectacular views but the higher we travelled the more we ascended into the clouds. Set at the top of the mountain, the restaurant is very rustic. There is no electricity, lighting is by candle and lamps, heating is by a roaring open fire and food is cooked in the kitchen by portable gas. It was a truly wonderful restaurant with the most delicious home grown and home cooked food we had tasted in a long time. We will certainly be visiting again.  After lunch (nearly 3 hours!) we walked along the mountain path, just as the cloud lifted and we saw the spectacular coastline of Costa del Sol. A truly perfect day!

The hills surrounding Estepona 
Our second trip was more challenging.  Our friend Edita drove us up an increasingly narrow and precarious road to an old forest guard compound from which we walked uphill to the waterfalls at Fuentes de Saucillo. The views along the way were spectacular and we certainly burnt off a few calories. The waterfalls were pretty, with pools trickling into pools for a hundred metres or more.  A place to return to in Spring when the mountains of Sierra Bermeja have absorbed the rainfall and moisture and is setting it free once again into the cascades that Edita described to us.

The Dream Team!
Flights booked for our Christmas return. I flew back on the 18th December and Mark flew back on the 23rd so that he could take part in the December regatta with the Estepona sailing club.  He crewed on our friend Isaac's boat. In strong winds gusting at 30 to 35 knots Mark, Isaac, Richard and Richie (Richard's son) had a blast, sailing Polaris to her limit and overtaking much bigger boats. Mark was still ecstatic when he arrived in England on the Monday and, three weeks later, Spanish aquaintances are still talking about the English crew forcing Isaac to have too much sail up. And Mark has learned a new Spanish word 'temerario' which means daredevil. Or reckless. Or foolhardy. Mark prefers the former.

We spent Christmas with family and friends. Christmas is such a magical time for me, I absolutely love it. I love meeting up with family and friends, eating and drinking too much, playing games and laughing until my face aches and mostly being with our children and grandchildren and watching the Christmas magic consume them.

I cannot believe how fast the grandchildren are growing and know it will only be a matter of time before the mystery of Christmas will be no more, so we need to savour and treasure these moments as much as we can.

Special day out with the Grandchildren 

Pre Christmas treats
Family Forever!

Growing up too quickly
Boxing day fun

It started so well!

We came back to Estepona to end 2019 and celebrate the new year and new decade in Spanish style with our Swedish friends Elizabeth and Tim. Oh my, what a night that was! 

As you can see by the photos, we started out sensible and then partied hard until the early hours.  We were the first to arrive and last to leave!

It was such a beautiful night we walked home and didn't see daylight until the afternoon! 

And so to 2020. What are our plans, hopes and dreams for this year? Well, truth be told, we haven't got a firm plan yet. Plan A is to finish off sailing round the Balearics then on to Sardinia and Corsica and Plan B is sailing along north Africa over to Malta and then Sicily. All we do know at the moment is that we plan to leave Estepona sometime at the end of March or beginning of April and return in September to celebrate Mark's mum's 80th birthday out here in Spain.

Work work work!
We have been working on a number of projects since arriving in Estepona,  and we still have a worryingly long to-do list before we set off on our summer cruise.  Things we have worked on include: improving the engine exhaust system, lots of work on the sails and rigging, insulating the fore peak roof against the summer heat and varnishing the outside woodwork. 

Cockpit mayhem
Often I will come back from a walk or shopping to be greeted by this sight as I step into the cockpit.  Good job I love him so much.
(Good job I love you so much, Mrs P,  that I want to make our boat strong enough to give you adventures on the high seas for years to come!)

As if this wasn't enough, Mark has also been helping his friend Isaac fibre glass holes and refit windows on Polaris. It's a peculiar vice he has, continually fixing things. And people are continually amazed at how many tools and spare parts are stashed away in Offbeat. 

As we move forward and maximise our remaining time in Estepona, Mr P has drawn upon his project management training and experience, created prioritised lists of jobs to be done and a time schedule of what and when we'll do them, a carefully calculated and, oh, whatever. Manana.

Offbeat 2020
Luckily at Christmas Mark was gifted by our granddaughter Millie a technical drawing of how Offbeat should look before we set sail in the Spring,  so we are working towards this goal. 

We think that an inflatable unicorn floating behind us might compliment the look as well. Oh, we now have one of those too. Thanks Jo!

On a final note for this blog, I'm not one for new year resolutions anymore. I can't be doing with beating myself up when I don't stick to them. So, this year I'm calling them aspirations. Firstly to try and keep on top of my blog 🤔, secondly to achieve my goal of doing a 5km run 🙄 and thirdly, to continue enjoying life to the max!