Posted by: Nicholas | August 30, 2013

The maker of a Tinker Tramp

We have just bought a Tinker Tramp secondhand.

The owner was in Malta, on his way to the Caribbean via Gibraltar. A Tinker has a wooden bottom and the voracious teredo worms would soon eat through the bottom, so he wanted to buy an aluminium boat. Luckily, his route through the Western Mediterranean took him through Mahon, and he delivered the Tinker directly to Tripitaka in her birth in Cala Llonga. That was a result, thanks, Roy.

As we inflated the boat, we looked at the sign on the transom which told us where the boat was made, and who by.

Sailors are a superstitious lot. The name of the builder looks like a good omen to me.


Posted by: Nicholas | August 30, 2013

Captain’s Log: Rain, rain go away

Date: Monday 26th August, 2013

Location: Cala Llonga, Mahon Harbour, Menorca

Crew: Nicholas (skipper), Jez, Jane, Alasdair

The first day of our big trip began as a washout. Mahon had been sweltering for days and the locals were delighted when it burst in a sustained electrical storm. Thunder boomed out at sea and echoed from the Menorcan hills, punctuating the percussive beat of heavy rain drops on fibre glass roof.

Newly-arrived holiday makers were not so impressed.

IMG_1383We suited up in oilskins and Alasdair’s all-in-one rainsuit and headed out to victual the boat from the single supermarket in Cala Llonga. There is a playground on the way and we stopped to play, in the pouring rain, for 20 minutes. There is no deterring a small boy on a mission to play.

Back at the boat, we ate tapas and Spanish tortilla. At 2pm, the rain stopped and the crew sprung into action. We have a new sailing boat: a Tinker Tramp sailing dinghy, and it was time to inflate and rig the new addition to our fleet.

Posted by: Nicholas | August 20, 2013

Sailing with a four year old

Next week, I am taking Alasdair sailing for a week. It will be his first time living aboard the boat.

I’ve realised that I haven’t updated the blog for a while. Tripitaka is now moored in Cala Llonga on on the north side of Mahon harbour. It’s a pretty place but the pontoon has just water and electricity. No shower block. No restaurants except a long taxi ride away. It’s a far cry from the bustle of Alcudia.

Of course, it’s also much cheaper and much prettier. And if we want to live aboard in a busy, shower-block-equipped marina, we just pootle across the harbour to a Mahon mooring for a week. That would be much cheaper than paying the premium to be there all year round.

On the crossing from Mallorca to Menorca, we lost the dinghy. It was towing behind the boat and got swept away. So I’ve bought a new one. It’s a Tinker Tramp, an inflatable dinghy that comes with a mast. Expect an update next week.

The Tinker came from a catamaran sailor who is heading to the Caribbean later this year and needs a aluminium-hulled dinghy to resist toredo worms. He was in Malta and has luck would have it, he was sailing to Gibraltar via Menorca. So thank you, Roy, for delivering the Tinker.

So next week is about learning how to live aboard with a four year old (there will be two other adults there too). I hope to figure out how to rig and sail the Tinker. I hope to potter around Mahon harbour in the big boat and the small one. If the weather gods are kind, we might be able to nip around the corner to one of the beautiful calas, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

It should all be lots of fun.

Posted by: Nicholas | January 28, 2012

Lifejackets for toddlers

At the London Boat Show earlier in January, I bought lifejackets for Alasdair and Lucy.

I was lucky enough to spend some time talking to someone (I’m afraid I didn’t get his name) who worked for manufacturer Crewsaver. As well as helping me check that the lifejackets were the correct size, he gave me some useful tips for keeping children harnessed safely on board.

  • Small fingers have flexibility and patience – they are capable of unclipping a harness attached to the D-Ring in the middle of their back.
  • Instead of using a harness with a clip at each end, find (or make) one with a loop of webbing at one end and a clip at the other.
  • Attach the harness to the lifejacket using the loop (i.e. by taking the clip end, passing it through the D-ring and then through the loop). This can’t be undone by little fingers, no matter how hard they try
  • An additional benefit is that the loop is lighter and less bulky than a clip, which means they are much less uncomfortable and irritable.

It sounds like good advice and I will be buying a couple of new harnesses with a loop and a clip for our next trip.

Posted by: Nicholas | January 9, 2012

Which marina to choose in Mahon, Menorca?

I’ve decided to move my sailing yacht Tripitaka to Mahon, for reasons I set out in a previous post on moving to Menorca.

The question now is which of the three marinas to choose.

Port Saltrabanda

Port Saltrabanda appears to be a series of pontoons and moorings along the north side of Mahon harbour (i.e. the other side of the harbour from the city and the old town. This has the advantage that it is likely to be quieter and a more peaceful mooring.


The disadvantage is that I hope to live aboard the boat for a week at a time with the children. As far as I can tell from looking at the marina website, it is a little remote. It’s not clear how much there would be to do in the near vicinity if the weather was bad or if, disaster of disasters, the kids decide that they don’t want to do any sailing.

  • 12 months mooring: €5,454.99 (including IVA)

Marina Menorca

Marina Menorca is at the very western end of Mahon harbour. We’ve visited there once, perhaps 7 or 8 years ago, and my recollection is of a functional, working, slightly industrial harbour. It appears to have great facilities, and to be a great location if you want to keep a boat secure in a marina, rather than to stay there for a week or more at a time.


  • 12 months mooring: €6,170.34 (including IVA)

Marina Mahon

Marina Mahon appears to be the marina on the waterfront in Mahon, just ten minutes from the old town. I had initially wanted to keep Tripitaka here, because it would be easy to get ashore and go for a walk into town with the children, but feared it would be ridiculously expensive.

It turns out to be cheaper than Marina Menorca, which makes it a much more viable option.

The advantage is that we are on shore, near the town, with all the facilities of Mahon a short walk away.

The disadvantage is that it might be noisy and bright at night, and is in a town, rather than the quieter backwater on the north side of the harbour.


  • 12 months mooring: €5,592.00 (including IVA)

Other considerations

If it weren’t for the fact that Alasdair is three and Lucy is only one, I would be much less worried about the choice. All three seem to have good facilities for the boat. I seem to be having to choose between “a bit industrial but good facilities, expensive” (Marina Menorca, currently option #3 in my head) and two others which are roughly the same price where one is a teensy bit more remote.

My “passage plan” for the first week we live aboard as a family focuses on staying within Mahon harbour. I can imagine sailing to each of these marinas in turn (and the anchorage at the entrance to the harbour) to get the children used to sailing on a yacht. So in some ways, the choice isn’t that important – if we don’t like it, we can always move next year.

Yet getting it right for my first trip seems important. Which one would you choose, and why?

Posted by: Nicholas | November 30, 2011

Planning a move to Mahon in Menorca

After a successful-ish experiment taking Alasdair (aged 2 3/4) and Lucy (just turned one) on a day sail from Southampton to Cowes, I have concluded that my best option is to move Tripitaka to Mahon, the capital of Menorca.


It’s a beautiful harbour, long and thin, right in the heart of a city, albeit a small city on a small island. Here are my reasons:

  • Mahon has a sheltered harbour with an interesting fort/anchorage near the entrance. I had a lovely sail with three skilled crew beating back up the harbour in calm waters as a Force 8 blew the seas outside into nauseating patterns. I reckon we will be able to take the kids for a 1-2 hour sail within the harbour without risk of seasickness in all but the most miserable of storms.
  • Mahon is a city, with all the opportunities to go and explore that implies.
  • There are good regular flights to Menorca with low-cost airlines
  • The island is tiny (it’s only 35 nautical miles round) which means that there are many lovely anchorages within a short sail (<4 hours). So as the kids get older, we will be able to explore the island and anchor out for a couple of nights.
  • We can always take a taxi to the beach or hire a car if all else fails.
  • I love Spain, Spanish food and the Spanish people.
  • It’s a short sail from my current berth in Puerto Bonaire in north-east Mallorca, and I can’t spare time away from family or work to travel anywhere much further away.

That’s my plan, anyway, subject to finding mooring and gardinage services in Mahon. Do you think it is a good one?

I’ve read the books. I’ve done the courses. I know that passage planning matters. I know that serious sailors do pages of chart, tide and pilotage work at home, preparing for every eventually when out at sea.

I’m not that kind of sailor.

I take planning seriously. My mind is constantly considering options, thinking about what to do if the weather turns, how to make sure the crew get fed if I’ve miscalculated the tide, what ports of refuge there might be in the case of tempest or – more likely – mutiny.

What I hadn’t realised was just how much more important it is to plan your passage properly in advance.

1. You really need to concentrate on the now

RYA Yachtmaster candidates are told that spending too much time below on chart work is a bad sign. The same is true when sailing with kids. You need to worry about feeding them, entertaining them and keeping them safe. You don’t have much time left over to sail, let alone navigate.

2. Time is your enemy

Small children need to sail in short, sharp bursts. If you were sailing with adults, you could heave to, head out to sea or just sail around a few buoys (especially in the Solent) while you work out where you are going.

When you have kids who need to get ashore soon, you don’t have that luxury.

3. It’s harder to navigate under pressure

“Daddy, my tummy feels strange.”

“Daddy, I’m hungry.”

“Daddy, are we nearly there yet.”

The worst time to do navigation or pilotage work is when you are under pressure. When sailing with kids, you will always be under pressure.

4. Plans might need to change real fast

When sailing with adults, a sudden squall might be no big deal. Running an hour late because the tide was stronger than you anticipated is no problem.

With a child reaching his or her sailing limit, it’s an issue. Is there somewhere you can anchor for a while? Can you stop and run ashore in the dinghy for some exercise? Is there somewhere nearer to go?

Better to make plans in advance.

5. Because emergencies are much more terrifying

I’ve run aground in Chichester Harbour (twice) and in a rocky cove in Mallorca. It has taken me 5 minutes, 2 hours and 6 hours to refloat. It was a stressful event every single time.

Just imagine how much more stressful it would be with a worried, bored toddler.

* * *

I always knew that passage planning was important. I used to just have the main points mapped out in my head before I left, and filled in the details while underway.

Not any more.

Posted by: Nicholas | October 2, 2011

The first trip – some hard lessons learned

  1. Plan your passage in advance: There is much less time for passage planning onboard when you have kids to entertain.
  2. Maximum sail time = age of youngest crew member in years: Youngsters get bored easily, and there is surprisingly little to distract them with at sea, even in the Solent. Keep it short.
  3. One adult for the boat, one each for the kids: We had two experience sailors, plus two inexperienced sailors who were both highly practical and great with the kids. This really helped.
  4. Seasickness sucks: Hearing Alasdair, aged 2 3/4 saying “My tummy feels funny” in a plaintive, but not complaining, voice, was horrible. Horrible because I know how rotten seasickness makes you feel, and because if he never gets past seasickness, this could be a very short experiment.
  5. Sticking stickers makes you seasick:  And so does drawing, reading, playing games on a phone… In short, all the tricks we’ve learned for keeping small children distracted on long terms cause real problems on a boat.

These are just my first thoughts. I hope to adapt them over time as I discover new and better ways to sail with children.

Posted by: Nicholas | October 2, 2011

Having kids is not going to stop me sailing

Ten years ago, almost to the day, I came back from a four month trip sailing my Dufour 36, Tripitaka, around the Mediterranean with my then-girlfriend (now wife) Catherine.

Yesterday, I chartered an Oceanis 37 to sail from Southampton to Cowes and back.

The second time was a lot more challenging, mainly because we now have two under-threes. Sailing in one of the most crowded patches of water in the world, in tidal waters (strange tidal waters with twice as many high tides as usual, no less) and worrying whether a toddler might leap overboard was tiring.

It was also fun, exhilarating and joyful.

This blog will chronicle my attempts to make sailing a fun, enjoyable experience for children and parents alike.

Who knows, I may even be able to squeeze in another four month trip within the next ten years.