Press Reset

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There have been day trips and twilight sails, working bees and winter sanding but finally we left the dock this Good Friday for our inaugural two nighter up beautiful South West Arm on the Port Hacking River.

Casting the lines off and putting out into the channel we cruised down to this convivial Easter anchorage, passing skiers and day trippers and soaking up the weekend holiday vibe.

Anchor down, we crack open the cheese and olives and sup a crisp verdelho for happy hour. The worries and stresses of our daily working lives can be seen washing away in the ebbing tide and out to sea, the change of scenery and a new experience replacing them for as long as we are here.

Toys be gone. A colouring book and some binoculars will suffice, the usual sibling bicker that erupts intermittently on a tiring school day has no place here.

Dinner from a flask. Slow cooked lamb casserole from last week, nuked to an inch of its life and poured into a heated flask is tipped into bowls and mopped up with sour dough and another glass of wine, a satisfying start to the weekend’s menu on a boat with no stove or powered refrigeration.

The night descends and with tired little ones tucked in we sit on deck and chat and sip to a symphony of splashes as mullet and tailer launch themselves out of the water.

Morning dawns and the rowdy squawk of cockatoos can be heard up in the park. The boats around us come to life. The guttural splutter of the diesel engine on a motor cruiser charging the batteries to chill the beer and keep the bait cool. Ski boats can be heard zipping up and down in the distance as the waterway assumes its weekend playground persona. Bacon and eggs sizzle on deck barbeques, awakening our taste buds so we hop into the tinny with our camp stove and chug up the river for billy tea and a buttered hot cross bun, counting sting rays on the way.

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Refreshed with a swim and the tea we make our way up river, spying swallows nests tucked into sandstone overhangs and marvelling at the angophoras clinging defiantly to the rocks. Grass trees sought after in urban gardens are two a penny. Water falls trickle from rocks, evidence of flowing damns and watercourses, so long absent from the Sydney basin in recent years.

As the river shallows and becomes a rocky creek we leave the tinny behind and after another swim we wander up the trickling creek and wash the salt off before heading back down river for lunch. As we leave, a gaggle of scouts arrive, ten in a tinny and ten more towed behind on a doughnut.

Boys in boats with oversized outboards whump past. Kyackers hug the river bends and the odd camper defies the park signs, the tinge of campfire smoke in the air giving them away.

Back on the boat. A sandwich, a book and a lazy hour or two on deck and soon the afternoon sun is well past the yard arm. Thoughts turn to happy hour and I jump in the tender with the kids and a cool bag. Whilst Reg takes a nap we row up a nearby inlet onto sand flats. The kids strip off and play in the shallows and the sand and the mud for a good hour, munching chips and cheese despite sandy fingers until the camp stove arrives and we cook up our lamp chops and crack a beer.

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The light is changing and we are now in the shadow of the hill but the trees on the other side glow amber and the little red boat bobs on its anchor line, bathed in the warm evening light. Cockatoos resume their squawking as they return to their roost and the sea eagle soars tantalising out of my zoom range.

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We pack up and the tinny tows us back in the tender, the girls cradling an enamel pudding basin with a paper towel blankets and an imaginary baby (you know what they say about necessity). We pass a raft of big motor boats. Retired types and seasoned cruisers give a friendly wave as we pass, scrubbed up and shaved, gin in hand ready for a jolly evening aboard.

Back on board salty bodies are rinsed on the deck in the twilight before being dropped into pyjamas and tucked up in the forepeak, lulled to sleep to the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor and soft Cornish shanty voices emanating from the stereo. We sip wine in the red hue of the dual switch cabin light before heading up on deck again. Tide and wind are opposed but wind wins and our flotilla of yacht, tinny and tender slowly spin and make closer neighbours with the MV Carribean. We chat and aquaint ourselves until the tide turns and we spin back to where we were.

At 2am I’m rudely awakened by a sand fly in my sleeping bag. I zap it with “Rid” and wriggle back in my bag. An owl hoots in the bush beyond. Thankyou sand fly. With morning comes the Easter Bunny but not before I steal a quiet morning row in the tender before the anchorage awakes. I return to the boat and the hunt is in full swing and chocolate fuels the day to come.

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We breakfast on the beach again and head out in the tinny to meet friends. On the way home I snap the eagle. Edging ever closer I get the shot but he refuses to fly away sticking to his perch, denying me the chance to capture his impressive wingspan.

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A surprise visit from friends on board is the perfect way to punctuate the weekend. Drinks come out, some olives and the rest of the cheese. Happy snaps and boat banter and finally goodbye.

As we put up the river and approach the quay I feel an impending sense of disappointment and the anticlimax of a holiday that felt too short. But we’ll be back.

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Why you should never EVER take a banana on a boat

Happy RaysSailors and seafarers are superstitious folk. Its always been this way. Never leave port on a Friday, never harm an albatross, NO pasties on board, avoid redheaded people before a voyage (?!!!) and apparently women on board are bad luck (pah!)…and bananas. Don’t bring bananas onboard.

So last weekend, Sydney produced some absolutely sublime weather; sunny clear skies, 10-15 knots from the west. We’ve decided, despite having a long list of renovations for the boat, that we just need to use it whenever the weather is right for taking small children on board, to get them used to it so when it is finally set up for over-nighters we can feel confident to take them out of the heads and up or down the coast.

The picnic basket is the most important aspect of putting to sea with children. Unfortunately when I was throwing things in the eski, upmost in my mind was mess free appealing food that fills them up. So I chucked in some bananas and didn’t give it a second thought.

It was a cracker of a day. In fact probably one of the happiest and funnest and joyous days I’ve spent with my family….

So back to the bananas. Until we got back to the mooring it was all smooth sailing. I was down below playing I spy with the girls….and there was a gentle bump as the keel hit the mud…followed by about ten minutes (that felt like thirty) of Reg thrashing the outboard and swinging around on the rigging until we eventually slid off. It was the first time we’d put the boat back on the mooring at low tide and we were excruciatingly a couple of metres from the mooring buoy. So whilst its a great spot in terms of distance to row the tender to shore, we will have to approach the mooring from a specific angle at low tide. Or leave the bananas at home.

If you know any interesting or unusual seafaring superstitions, please share!

Endeavouring…

Reg has a got a new tiller. All shiny new and varnished. It was the first item up for renovation on the little red boat that we adopted late last year. It still bears the name Red Endeavour, a title we plan to change (suggestions welcome), although I’m beginning to think the current name is rather apt. It is proving very much to be an endeavour and progress has been a little slow. But that’s no surprise.

Reg tinkering

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The Christmas holidays were a mad rush to get her surveyed, registered, drop a mooring and get her seaworthy to sail round to Botany Bay where she has been bobbing up and down ever since. Sadly I couldn’t join Reg for the sail, which is why there are no photos of this momentous occasion. Her previous owners took a stroll along the Esplanade at Cronulla and waved the beloved little red boat goodbye from the cliff tops.

We’d love to keep her in Port Hacking but there’s a long wait list for moorings. Gwawley Bay is on Botany Bay and is a 15 minute drive from where we live. It’s also just a stone throw from Endeavour Marine who we’ll probably get to know a little better as we work through the list of jobs required to be done before she’s ready for a jaunt up or down the coast with a crew of under-fives.

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Despite this slow progress it’s been pleasing to see how getting kids on boats is not just about the actual act of sailing (although that’s the goal). There are so many opportunities for them to learn and explore before they’ve even left the wharf. Miss Four spent at least two afternoons accompanying Reg on a maintenance mission. Threading new halyards, learning about running a mouse line (a four year old girl actually really gets the concept; it’s like hickory dickory dock, except in a mast instead of a clock). The new tiller needed to be fitted and the more boring jobs like fitting a manual bilge pump were endured by sitting in the cockpit singing away, doing some colouring in whilst happily licking an ice cream.

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Before she left her old home we took her for a trip up South West arm and whilst we didn’t get any sails up that day, it was a good opportunity to assess the renovations list down below…

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..and test out the sea legs…

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Put people to work polishing the top sides…

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…thirsty work…

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Top of my list is a working galley, although this will have to wait until we have replaced the egg beaters with a diesel donk as I don’t like the idea of naked flame and petrol engines in the same vicinity. The galley will be closely followed by some new lockers so we can stow a few items permanently and keep things ship shape down below (a challenge with toddlers on board).

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So, we have a deadline to get her sorted by the summer. We have family coming to visit and after an anticipated hard year at work I am already dreaming about a couple of weeks on Pittwater or Jervis Bay, simply messing about on boats, come Christmas. Will keep you posted.

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PS – if there are any Endeavour 26 enthusiasts out there with ideas for optimum below decks design configurations give me a shout :)

We Didn’t Mean to Go to Sea

Last year we sold our beloved skiff and I wrote a heartfelt valedictory post about it here, where I celebrated the love of a boat that sadly had to go. In the meantime we’d sold our small house in south Sydney and headed for the leafy burbs of the ‘Shire, content with the tinny and the occasional race or delivery with old friends and connections whilst we focused on raising two girls and giving them a taste of the briny.

When we advertised the skiff online we got side tracked perusing the marine classifieds and day dreamed of the possibilities, a bit like some people do on domain.com on a Friday night accompanied by a chardy or two (actually that’s me as well). We pondered a few items in the four figure category, commenting on how lovely it would be to have something with a cabin to do overnighters on with the girls and take them outside of the heads.  Having just bought a house and not having yet sold our current one, not to mention the renovations required on the new one, we categorised a lead keel boat in the “several decades away” basket. In fact having done a few thousand miles on other people’s yachts, being a “proper” boat owner has never been top of the list.

But what would you say if someone offered you one. For free?.

Allow me to introduce you to the Red Endeavour.

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Generously donated by a family friend whose budget and ambitions have changed, this boat has been a  family fixture for about a quarter of a century. Mostly sailed on Port Hacking, and definitely pre-loved, its age a barrier to her owner’s urgency to reclaim the mooring for her replacement.

Our initial reaction to the offer was “yes, yes, yes” but there is actually more to taking on an old yacht than meets the eye. If I’m honest we both knew from the outset that we couldn’t say no. We did a bit of research on insurance, rego, moorings etc. and then went down for a lookie. Having noted the need for some TLC we uttered a predictable “yes”.

The pressing need to get her off her current moorings presented some unexpected challenges, which I will elaborate on in a future post. In the meantime she’s had her bottom scrubbed (well in need)…

Dirty Bottom

a once over from a marine surveyor (with recommendations)….

On the Slip

…..and a good gurney to blow away the guano (that’s a technical term for Sea bird poo in case you were wondering,) she was starting to look like a bit of a gift horse. I daren’t look her in the mouth.

I’m going to blog (now and then) about her ressurection which may be of interest if you’ve ever cruised the classified sections of “Afloat” magazine and don’t think its silly to adopt a bottomless money pit as your pet project (what house renovations?…)

calling all carpenters

table turned

Dunno about the dunny...

Need some money for new rope

Anchors Away!

Who has an overlocking industrial sewing machine?

..and who could resist the intoxicating and romantic aroma of two stroke…

The intoxicating and romantic aroma of two stroke

…from the egg beaters…

The egg beaters...

But….most importantly, when she’s scrubbed up and sea worthy I hope to bring you tales from the ocean waves with two under 5…

pondering the high seas

are you sure about this?rail fodder

hiking training

old anchor rope

…as well as the usual escape tales from the tinny, which I assure you will retain its rightful spot (in my eyes anyway) as the ultimate getaway vehicle from the stresses of modern life…

The tinny life

 What lengths have you gone to to avoid house renovations?! :)

 PS – If you’re interested in the captions that go with the photos, just hover your mouse over the image.

 

 

 

For the Love of a Boat

The Big S

Yesterday a little piece of my heart was taken away. It wasn’t my first born’s first day at school. I didn’t have to take the family dog to the vet. I sold my skiff. You might relate if you have at any point been the owner of one, that some boats take a special place in our hearts, as I aluded to in this recent post. They don’t have to be particularly shiny, classic or even wooden really, although these kind are easy to love.

The little blue sixteen footer was towed back to Middle Harbour yesterday and with it went the last vestiges of pre-family life. It represented for me more carefree days when the working week’s end was punctuated with four hours of salt water blasting, a good dose of sun and more bruises than a stick could poke at you.

My husband and I saved up for this much loved vessel before we got married. In fact if we’d have by passed it althogether we’d probably have been able to afford a wedding sooner. We forfeited a new sofa in lieu of the boat, which we painted blue and called Big Saturday. I’d never sailed skiffs before and spent several seasons standing on its upturned shiny hull admiring the paint job we’d had done instead of an expensive weekend away. In fact our first full new suite of sails was a wedding present from my Uni sailing friends.

On classic Sydney summer days with a 25 knot Nor ” Easter blowing I think of the feeling you get reaching down to Balmoral to the bottom mark, knees buckling at the pull of the kite and the sound of water slapping on the hull as its skips over the wavelets and sometimes a thump as it lands on a big lump of swell. Near misses with sight impaired white haired gents in captain hats on more sedate craft. Ducking a nine year old in a sabot and nearly taking the cap off his head with the tiller extension. Flying through the air when your bowsprit stay breaks downwind and landing head first in the drink.

International 16ft Skiff Regatta

We even took her on a road trip once from Sydney all the way to Geelong, receiving some interesting looks when we pulled up at a vineyard in Gippsland at the end of a muddy dirt track.

The speeds you can can reach in a skiff meant we’d be happy most weekends with a place somewhere between the bottom and the middle of the fleet. That said we had one particularly good season with a few handicap wins that earned us some prize money. Which we spent behind the bar on preso night.

Apart from the many hours of fun I had on that boat, I had as many happy hours on shore with some wonderful people. Skiffs, first designed and built here, are quintessentially Sydney. They made me feel at home in this city, part of a a long established community that still thrives in pockets and nurtures friendship and respect (mostly!) amongst its many members. The cameraderie at Middle Harbour was second to none; as Amelia E. Barr puts it “The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.

So if I am so in love with this boat and those around her why am I selling her? Well she’s been on a trailer at the front of our house for several years, seemingly unloved, certainly unused. Our fellow crew have also got mini me crews of their own too, so rounding up a threesome for a sail has become harder. Better then that she goes to a good home with some whipper snappers,  while we are at swimming school teaching the girls essential skills for righting capsized boats.

Thanks for the memories little blue boat. Do you have an all time favourite boat? Or some last vestige of pre-family days that you struggled to let go of like me?

If you’re not familiar with skiffs, here’s what you’ve been missing :)

16 Foot Skiffs past and present (Courtesy of Belmont 16 Footers and soundtrack by Midnight Oil)

“Music of The Rippling Waters “..Uteikah II turns 100

Its not everyday you get invited to a 100th Birthday, but two in a fortnight is unheard of. I had the privilege this weekend of attending a celebration of 100 years of the beautifully restored classic yacht Uteikah II. It was on this yacht that I came across the nautical chart that inspired my post “The Magic of Maps”. She has been owned by a friend of the family for the last thirty years or so and has just undergone a complete restoration project which has taken more years than was anticipated, but the final restoration speaks for itself. She is a thing of great beauty and I had a job to put my camera down.  

The celebration included a blessing of the boat. I couldn’t hear much of the pastor’s words from my spot on the wharf but, depsite still being unsure of my own religious persuasion the occasion rather stirred the emotions. I think anyone who “goes down to the sea in ships” might relate to this. It seems fitting and right to launch a vessel with a prayer that might help her and her crew weather any storms that come their way. Sailors are a superstitious bunch. The occasion reminded me of going with my Dad to the blessing of the fishing fleet and the harvest of the sea service in Porthleven. My Dad would say he is not a deeply religious man at all but he often went along to these occasions.

Uteikah has a long and rich history which I won’t attempt to record here in any detail at all as I’d probably get it wrong. The celebration was made particularly special though, by the attendance of the son and grandson of Uteikah’s original owner. The former of which pipped Uteikah to the post and got his telegram from the Queen last year. How special for a man and a boat who have shared the same century to be reunited in this way. Sent a shiver down my spine.

To some people boats are just a means of transport; a collection of wood, metal and cloth that are fashioned together to float and move from place to place. But to a sailor, like the once in a lifetime family dog, some boats are a bit more special than others. They bind together the people who have sailed on them through their shared memories and voyages and they take on a personality of their own by absorbing the spirit that is borne out of life at sea.

I’d love to hear about a vessel that was special to you and any thoughts or recollections on faith and seafaring?

I took too many photos to label and comment on so here are the best in a gallery. See if you can spot Grandad Water’s chunk of cedar that was once a table, then a wireless casing and is now set for a new life at sea.

Boat Boffin Birthday Bash

Its official. I’m a geek. I used my children as an excuse to spend the whole of last Sunday morning, and more, hanging around with the radio control boffins at the St George Model Boat Club 25th Birthday Regatta. I went down on the pretence that the kids would love all the little toy boats.
It was really to indulge in my own idea of becoming the owner of a  classic timber schooner. Or perhaps a vintage Sunday chugabout with graceful lines. On a reasonable budget. It was like being down at an expensive  marina pointing out all the boats you’d buy if you had a spare half a mil. I took about a gazillion photos. Luckily I had some friends with me to make sure the kids didnt fall into the duck pond everytime I got distracted with another photo opportunity. There was everything from….
…Olympic class sailing yachts
….the Manly ferry
……paddle steamers
…The South Steyne (with real steam!)
….ducks doing a ditty
…my dream runabout…
….iceberg!!!!!!
…grand old ladies…
….some serious attention to detail…
…some hooners…
…and schooners…
….gentleman racers…
…boys and their toys…
…the real reason behind the state’s public transport issues…
…the fishing fleet…
…ships that had sailed the seven seas to get here…
…The Life Boat…just in case…
And everything else in between…

Snapshots of an Ocean Queen

Stepping up to see the grand lady

A holiday on a cruise ship really isn’t my cup of tea. Perhaps when I’m ninety five and other options are becoming less accessible. However, I have nothing against those whose cup of tea it is, and I have to confess when one of the really grand Cunard vessels visits Sydney I can’t resist tripping down there to soak up the nautical magnificence that only a grand ocean liner can conjure, not to mention the people watching that goes with it. To my delight there were nautical stripes, deck shoes and gold braid aplenty as well as a few dinstiguished gents in blazers and panamas. Spiffing.  Rather than view the grand lady leaving through a pair of binos from a lofty harbourside lookout I chose to get up close and personal, if only so I could get that tingly feeling when she blows her horn right in your ear. Harriet’s eyes nearly popped out of her head. Here’s some snaps that resulted from a couple of pleasant hours loitering Quayside.

It was an overcast grey morning, but the colours worked well and the weather brought a certain Britishness to the occasion, as if any more was required!

Tidy Lines

This was one of several smartly dressed gentleman who looked like they’d just stepped out of an episode of “Goodnight Sweetheart”; trilby’s, panamas and blazers, and completely oblivious to the mad woman stalking them with pram and camera.

Taking a look

In the fifteen minutes leading up to her departure, rather disoncertingly there was a man playing the theme song to “Titanic” on the panpipes, which he followed up with “Time to Say Goodbye” . And say goodbye she did; with several honks on her horn she glided gracefully away from the Quay and out into the harbour.

The lady leaves

 Here’s the rest in a gallery. Bon Voyage!

Books on Boats and Things That Float

My Old Man and the Sea...

Whatever it is in life that floats your boat, is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy a couple of hours fossicking about in a book shop, flicking through the pristine pages of books on your favourite topic?

Over the years I have gathered a bit of a collection of nautical books, which when combined with Reg’s collection is the beginnings of a maritime library. When it’s cold, wet and windy outside, and for whatever reason you’re not at sea, what better way to while away the afternoon than with your nose stuck in K Adlard Cole’s classic “Heavy Weather Sailing” or a big colourful coffee table book showcasing the best of Beken of Cowes marine photography? It is for this very reason that Reg refuses to part company with twenty years worth of Yachting World, Australian Sailing and Offshore subscriptions. I have a dream that one day I’ll be able to dedicate an entire room of the house to boat books, a sailor’s drawing room if you like. Yes, I’m a boat book geek.

Step inside...if you have a few hours to spare....

This afternoon, in the absence of such a refuge, I indulged in a couple of hours of blissful arm chair sailing when I popped in to Boat Books in Crows Nest. If you’re a sailor, boater or a fan of anything remotely nautical or of a coastal inclination and you haven’t heard of Boat Books then keep reading.

Established for over thirty years and now with shops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, as well as a comprehensive online catalogue, Boat Books is the one stop shop for marine literature, charts and chart software. The thing that strikes you most when you browse through the shelves is the volume and variety of marine related books in stock. Far more than you’d be able to locate at the biggest general book store (5500 items in stock to be precise). Everything from the practicalities of repairing and maintaining diesel engines, mending sails, building wooden boats and plotting a safe course, through to seafood cookery books, marine and naval history, novels, marine photography and poetry, would appear to be available. There is something for everybody and if not I’m sure enquiries could be made to source what you are looking for.

Natural history meets Navy

Boat Books is also an official agent for Australian, British Admiralty, New Zealand and Fijian charts and offers a correcting service for charts you may already have. You can also purchase your digital charts and navigational software here whether for commercial or recreational purposes.

Charts....

A tea towel for the galley?

With titles like “Do Whales Get the Bends?”, “Dinner with the Fishwife” and “If Matthew Flinders Had Wings” it was a miracle I came out empty handed on this occasion. The only thing missing from the Boat Books experience was a nice cup of tea to sip whilst flicking through the pages of my next Christmas, birthday, anniversary present etc. Next time you are stuck for a gift for a boating enthusiast check out the online catalogue. In the meantime the gallery below will give you a flavour of what’s available.  Boat Books will have a stand at the Sydney Boat Show at Darling Harbour where Jessica Watson will be signing copies of her new book: True Spirit.

My trip to the book shop got me thinking about whether there is an absolute all time classic boat book. Perhaps its Joshua Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World or Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons? What’s your all time favourite?

Links

Boat Books Australia

Sydney  International Boat Show

Home is the Sailor Home from the Sea

Ella's Pink Lady off Sydney Heads

Over the last few weeks I have found myself reflecting on the much criticised, chronicled and at last congratulated adventures of Jessica Watson, teen solo round the world sailor.

Among the sailing and boating fraternity, opinions have abound on records, racing, technological assistance, mental stamina,  sponsorship and the likelihood of success (defined in a variety of ways). Amongst the wider community there have similarly been differences of opinion on what would motivate parental encouragement of such a potentially risky endeavor.

After absorbing all the commentary and opinion I’ve  come to a number of my own conclusions on what to make of it all.

The first is that Jessica’s voyage has been a triumph for the philosophy that an uncomplicated childhood in which your parents allow you to go on “lots of little adventures” and in which they take a very active role in your education makes for a confident young person with the ability, self belief and resilience to tackle life’s challenges…and to inspire others to do the same.

There are a lot of mean spirited and misinformed armchair adventurers out there who, despite having never been to sea themselves, have some very heated opinions on the topic and lack the usual fuel of justification that is “wasting tax payers money”. If you’ve been offshore in a yacht in anything more than forty knots of breeze in the middle of the night, then you’ll know that no amount of technological assistance or gadgetry can absolutely guarantee you a safe passage home to your loved ones.

My final conclusion, to use the words of Robert Louis Stevenson and so aptly quoted by Jessica’s mum is that “Home is the Sailor, Home from the Sea”. I’m sure there is not a mariner anywhere on land or at sea that would not agree with this and feel glad to hear of a fellow sailor’s safe return to port.

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