Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. This season we spent 5 months exploring Vanuatu and are now on the east coast of Australia.

Thursday, 11 May 2017


The most common question we are being asked is, "How does it feel to be home?" and, having been back at Parkhouse Cottage for a week, we are just about getting to grips with the question. The main answer, in truth, is, "It's a bit weird!".

After nearly 5 years living on a 38ft boat, the sudden access to all the living space in our, admittedly, modestly-sized house is taking some getting used to, as is the access to fresh (and hot) water at the turn of a tap without worrying about water tanks and the almost-forgotten responsibility for managing a garden. More on the garden later.....

A well-packed van!
We spent two full and exhausting days on Thursday and Friday shuttling back and forth in a hired van to collect all of our 'indoor' belongings from the storage unit in nearby Bridgwater (generously provided to us by our friend David) and another day collecting mower and other 'outdoor; things from a lockup at Holt Farm in the Yeo Valley (thanks to Tim and Garth). We really thought we had been pretty good at divesting ourselves of unnecessary clutter before we embarked on the voyage and, indeed, did a further cull when we were back here briefly a couple of years ago, but unloading everything into the house and garage was quite a shock; we clearly hadn't been trying.

The hallway filled with carefully-wrapped framed photos and art
A few years ago Graham attended a marketing briefing at Yeo Valley where some researchers presented their thoughts on world-wide trends in consumers' attitudes. One of the themes they highlighted was an increasing feeling that we are all becoming overwhelmed by 'stuff' - either physical possessions or electronically-delivered information. So much so that many people feel suffocated by it all and are starting to try to simplify their lives by divesting themselves of some of said stuff. The marketers (who like to do this sort of thing) came up with a snappy title for the trend - 'stuffication' - and that's what we are feeling right now. Our sailing friends Bob and Sue on Mawari were in our position a year ago when they flew back to England from Australia and have sent us a message saying "You'll wander down memory lane as you unpack everything and then take 75% of it to the charity shop!".

Apart from the issues of stuffication, our biggest challenge has been to start tackling the results of the house having been rented out for 5 years. We guess that we have been relatively lucky with out tenants but there is still a lot to do, inside and out. We have therefore moved abruptly from 'boat maintenance in exotic places' to 'house maintenance in Somerset'. The garden, which is pretty big, has certainly suffered from neglect, in spite of our paying a gardener to try to keep on top of it. The tenants of the past 2 years apparently had no interest in gardening at all so the mild climate and fertile soil has resulted in some astonishing and unwanted growth that has gone largely untamed. 

Thankfully, the mower, strimmer (Graham much prefers the American name of weed-whacker!), hedge-trimmer and chainsaw all started first time after 5 years, thanks to some careful moth-balling, and all have been used a great deal in the past 3 days of wonderfully sunny Spring weather:

The grass was pretty long so the first run of the mower revealed some unhealthily white stalks

The evergreen trees reshaped 

Sunset after an exhausting day
 At the top of the orchard, where we would usually enjoy a view across to the sea from our summerhouse, the hedges and trees had completely taken over, with an evil intertwining of wild rose and thorny brambles ready to inflict flesh wounds on us as we tackled them. Here is the 'before' and 'after' comparison after another busy day:

Before: Where did the view go?

After: The smoke from the bonfire drifts across
The good news is that we are making very obvious progress and are remaining stoical about all the boxes that remain, as yet, unpacked, as well as the increasingly long to-do lists that we are creating. It's probably not a bad thing that we have some welcome family diversions coming up - Di has just taken the train up to Lancashire to spend a few days with her sister and father and then we have Graham's dad's 80th birthday to celebrate up in Scotland next weekend. The maintenance jobs and the reduction of 'stuff' can wait a few more days.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Back in Blighty again

To quote the late, great Douglas Adam (author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), we aren't quite home and dry, but we are home and vigourously toweling ourselves off. We are currently zig-zagging our way across southern England and Wales and will finally land at our own house in Somerset on Wednesday.

In the meantime, and since arriving at Heathrow Airport on Easter Monday, we have been enjoying some wonderful hospitality of old friends and are slowly acclimatising to the the somewhat bracing Spring temperatures here. Lovely of Theresa May to announce a snap General Election, too, so as to ensure that we really can't listen to the radio or watch the news for more than 5 minutes without shouting at the smug politicians who are entirely missing the point of what's really important. The British Government was obviously getting miffed at all the attention that Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un and the French have been getting recently so thought they'd start a diversionary tactic of their own. 

Anyway, politics apart, it has been just great to see good friends and to enjoy the things that we've missed whilst we have been away: buildings older than 140 years, real ale (sorry, Australians, that cold fizzy stuff you drink straight from the bottle just isn't beer and you should stop calling it that) and the joys of the countryside bursting with blossom. We've done a fair few railway journeys, learning, in the process, the nonsensical fact that a pair of tickets from, for example,  Hemel Hempstead to Caersws, in mid-Wales, via Birmingham costs £150 if booked as a single jouney but only costs £15 if you buy each leg of the journey as a separate ticket (Eh???). And we are now the very happy temporary guardians of goddaughter Amy's Toyota Aygo whilst she is travelling abroad, so are loving the freedom to travel without a timetable.

Here are a few photos of the UK journey so far, with huge thanks to Richard and Jenny, Fergus and Helen, Richard and Naomi, Steve and Barbara and Simon and Kerry for their wonderful welcome.

Proper old buildings at Aldeburgh, on a walk along the seafront with Jenny

The boating lake at Thorpeness Mere - we weren't tempted!

Fergus takes Di for a spin in his 1955 Austin Healey. Fergus sailed across the Atlantic with us in 2012

spring blooms

Di with Naomi and Richard (and Radley the gorgeous Springer Spaniel); Richard was the other crew member across the Atlantic
Richard, founder of the wonderful business Snowbility, which puts Autistic and other special needs kids on skis with amazing results, surprised us with a skiing lesson of our own!
Graham getting to grips (sort of) with the slippery stuff...

... and with Holly the dog in mid-Wales

Di, meanwhile, gets a training session on the quad-bike from Steve....

... as a precursor to some hard labour clearing wood

Rewards for hard work - proper beer (and NZ wine)
setting off to Cornwall

Bluebells in amazing full bloom near Truro, Cornwall
We'll post another update once we get back into our house; we regain possession of it from out tenants on Wednesday and have a van booked for Thursday and Friday to collect all our gear from our storage units. There is some hard work ahead to get the cottage re-decorated and re-furnished, the garden sorted and some general maintenance completed. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Dubai 2: A city expanding before our eyes

Dubai has gone through a petrol-powered revolution in the past 20 years and the pace of building change shows little sign of slowing down. Running out of prime waterfront real estate? Simple - build a new island shaped like a palm tree. The views being interrupted by the neighbouring buildings? Construct the tallest building in the world.

The sprawl of Dubai - the original town was at The Creek in the top right of the photo and The Palm island is to the bottom left. The other offshore construction is The World, a project that, for the moment is on hold (presumably until the oil price increases again)

The shadows show the skyscrapers - The needle in the middle is the  Burj Khalifa tower
We took a day's hop-on, hop-off bus tour to see most of the sights so here are a few photos:

The Burj Al Arab hotel (one of the most expensive in the world). The round disk at the top is the helicopter pad which has been used for all sorts of PR stunts including David Coulthard doing donuts in a Formula 1 car and Agassi playing tennis on it!

The new Souk Madinat Jumeirah beach-side resort

The tunnel out to the edge of The Palm

Beach life

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at over 800m high (twice the height of the Empire State Building)

The view from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa/ Ten years ago this was just desert.

Looking down to the Dubai Fountain

Sunset from the Burj - the atmosphere is pretty hazy through a mix of wind-blown sand and pollution

Di on the 125th floor
The Dubai Fountain starts one of its amazing computer-controlled water, light and music shows

The Burj Khalifa at night

The fountain show
Apart from the overwhelming dazzle of the buildings and the shock of the 'world's largest' shopping malls and the indoor ski slope (really!), we really enjoyed our Dubai experience, thanks in no small part to the wonderful hospitality of Anthony and Lucy. The few days also eased us back into British retail brands and we were delighted to find some decent yogurt at last!

Di finds the Yeo Valley yogurts in the Spinney's supermarket
We are now back in England, staying with great friends in Suffolk. Lovely weather but a bit colder than we are used to!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Dubai Part 1: The Old Town and Old Boats

We have broken the long haul back to England with a three-night stopover in Dubai (a mere 13 hours' flying time from Brisbane, which is about 11 hours too long, according to Graham). If we're honest, it's not a location that would have naturally appealed to us but we are very fortunate that Lucy and Anthony, who live here, were generous enough to welcome us to stay. Graham grew up with Lucy during summer and Easter holidays in Galloway, south-west Scotland, but, since we haven't seen them for nearly 20 years, we were stretching the rather tenuous 'old friends' link rather. However they have been wonderfully welcoming, have shown us some of the sights of the city and even managed to get an extended invitation for us to join them at a house party on the super-smart Palm artificial island.

In the 14 or so years that they have been here, Dubai has changed beyond all recognition with huge clusters of sky-scrapers, including the world's tallest building, built on what was desert when they first arrived. However, some of the old town near The Creek still remains so Anthony took us to see it (in temperatures of about 36 degrees!) on Friday and it was truly fascinating. A few photos follow:

Dianne with Lucy and Anthony on the promenade walkway at the Family Beach....

... which has some unusual rules for those used to Australian beaches

The Creek, with a sea-going cargo dhow
Many of the buildings on this side of the Creek are relatively new, but built along traditional lines. Not something that can be said for most of Dubai's architecture

Some of the big fleet of abra boats - heavily-built wooden ferries which take locals and tourists across the Creek for the sum of 1 dirham (about 20p). The close-quarters boat handling is very entertaining!
The surprisingly large fleet of wooden dhows unloading at the quay carry about 1.7 million tonnes of cargo every year, linking the city to ports in Iran, Iraq, Oman, India, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. Mostly built of heavy teak planks, the larger boats can weigh up to 500 tonnes and all are loaded by hand; the cargoes we saw included refrigerators, air conditioners, truck tyres and even jet-skis but the boats themselves look as though they haven't changed in centuries, apart from the diesel engines which have replaced the traditional lateen sailing rigs.

air conditioning units unloaded

truck tyres and unidentified sacks

Detail of the superstructure. The toilet is just a seat at the very aft end of the top deck!
A short walk from the quay took us to the Spice and Gold Souks - rabbit-warren streets lined with tiny shops whose traders all wanted to persuade us to come inside for their 'best prices'. Meanwhile on the streets there were more men showing us their 'Rolex' and other fake-brand watches.

The smell in the Spice Souk was wonderful
Crossing the Creek in an abra we walked up to the house that once belonged to Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al-Maktoum, who was the leader of Dubai until his death in 1958. The courtyard building was constructed in 1896 and is dominated by four 'barjeels' - wind-towers that directed the cooling sea breezes through the house long before electric air-conditioners, without which Dubai city could not now survive. It's now a museum, containing some wonderful photographs from the mid 1900's when Dubai city was no more than a tiny port town of traditional buildings constructed of stone and date-palm wood.

Entrance to one of the wings, with the wind-tower above
Up on the roof

We drove back along the beach-front as Anthony was keen for us to see the racing dhows that had just returned from the first days of a two-day regatta. These beautiful boats are 22ft, 43ft and 60ft long, with two masts and professional crews; it's a fiercely-contested sport of the very wealthy and is open only to locals. We passed a boatyard where one of the 60ft monsters was being rigged:

Here's a link to a photo of one of these amazing boats under sail: http://www.adsyc.ae/en/pic_gallery.php?aid=113#prettyPhoto[gallery1]/21/

So this was a great day to introduce us to 'old' Dubai as a primer for our explorations the following day into the new parts of town. Photos of that to follow soon!