From Van to Vannes….. (and beyond)
We’re Al & SJ. Just an everyday UK couple. No different to anyone else. There’s the house. Albeit on a private marina next to a river near Cambridge. Complete with wonderfully expansive views, pontoon but no boat. There are the long days working, travelling including the stupidly long commute in addition to the global work related jet-setting. With life’s trappings and comforts. It’s strange then, that after watching a 50 minute TV programme, and a chat which lasted probably less than10 minutes, we put our house on the market (selling it quite quickly) followed by the car, possessions, clothes.
Everything had to go!
What we didn’t sell we mostly gave away to family and charity. For months, we waited for the completion of the sale. On the day of completion, we had 30 minutes’ notification to vacate the property. Which we managed to do with time to spare. We bought a van, that same evening, moved in and started exploring the UK.
We’re still learning to live in a (MUCH) smaller space, with far fewer possessions. As John Hurt said (in the film Contact).
Wanna take a ride?
But, how did we get here? It goes, something like this…………
In the beginning …
Having enjoyed the first series of Granchester (in part, due to the soundtrack featuring Sidney Bechet), I am in frequent use of the phrase “Christ on a bike!”, which is exactly what I feel like saying when asked if I would “like to go to Bora Bora”. Well, it is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to.
Let’s rewind a tad further.
A couple of years’ prior, Al had the grandiose notion of buying a boat and sailing to the Caribbean.
It sounded rather fantastical at the time, and so I had only one answer. “No”. And a very resounding one it was at that. I feared we would be eaten by sharks (caveat that: I feared I would be eaten by sharks) or captured by pirates. Plus, there was the small fact that Al couldn’t sail. This was his idea, his notion, and as far I was concerned, it could stay in his noggin. Those sort of dreams are for hardcore adventurers. Mine did not involve crossing oceans; being eaten or captured in the process.
I had other ideas: interiors, houses, clothes, shoes, holidays; you know, the usual trappings of life. However, unbeknown to me (at the time), I was trapped by the very trappings of my own life. I had a library of some three thousand plus books. I had forty odd years of collectables (aka junk). I had sentimental and valuable items (which I could not let go of) and despite having already circumnavigated the globe (albeit by air), I still did not like the idea of sailing across vast oceans.
Then on the 10th August 2015, Al watched a TV programme which re-awoke the idea he’d had the two years previously. It was a fifty-minute show about a couple living aboard their thirty-six-foot yacht in French Polynesia. The programme was ‘New lives in the Wild’ with Ben Fogle.
Immediately after watching it, Al came to find me and posed the following:
“Would you like to go to Bora Bora?” “Yes!” I say.
“By boat?” he continues … “and we’d be selling everything …”.
Ah, and there’s the caveat. But regardless, I continued to say yes.
And that was that. The conversation was less than ten minutes long and we both watched the programme again. There were still no reservations. The decision was made. A plan was hatched. And we sold up.
The plan went something vaguely like this:
- Buy van.
- Live in van.
- Tour UK.
- Buy boat.
- Sell van
- Live on boat.
- Sail to paradise island.
- Build hut on beach.
- Live happily ever after.
So what had changed in the intervening period between his initial suggestion, (notwithstanding pirates and sharks), and now?
Well, a few things actually. Firstly, we had too much ‘stuff’. I had already embarked (earlier in the year), on cutting back the amount we had, so the impetus was already in place, and I was ‘primed’ for change.
Secondly, my grandmother had passed away a few years prior, and having helped clear her house, I vowed I would never leave our home brimming full of crap for someone else to have to sort out. Not that my grandmother’s stuff was crap. Far from it, but our place was full. To which we added her possessions; her collections, her treasures. It also occurred to me that my own stuff was partial junk (boxes of papers and things from when I was a child right through to my forties), and partial over consumerism. This cannot be blamed on the fact I used to be a buyer for a blue chip interior design company … can it?
When I started to sort though old leather cases, I found parcels of un-posted, uneaten wedding cake from 1996 (amongst other things). Heavens to Murgatroyd … or Betsy (take your pick).
Thirdly, I was fed up with the scenery. It was time for a change. I love travel. With a big ‘L’ (sorry Jamiroquai, no little ‘L’s’ here). I’ve always loved travel. As a child I lived in countless dilapidated houses. We even lived in a camper van for a while when my parents bought a boatyard in West Wales (it didn’t come with a house). Well, it did actually, it had several, and a chapel, a forge, a compound, fisherman’s huts, a beach and a slate mine. All completely uninhabitable. So, a Commer van it was.
Finally, I hate the cold. We both do. End of.
Let’s just say the timing was spot on. I was ready for change and challenge. And what could be more challenging than living in a van, followed by living on a boat?
The catalyst for change in a nutshell:
Returned home from Cornwall, laden with more ‘stuff’. Realise error of one’s way, and start decluttering with the help of some books: The Minimalists (yes, I heard of them years before they became mainstream), and my own determination to rid us of excess.
January 2015 – June 2015
The decluttering process is long and protracted, but equally cathartic and refreshing.
Finally, we have a home to love; clear of clutter and junk.
Al watches ‘New lives in the Wild’. He has an idea. He shares it and we hatch a plan. I sell more things.
Our home goes on the market. We sell yet more ‘stuff’.
Our home sells. We sell our furniture in anticipation of a pre-Christmas sale on our property (thinking it would take ages, when it took just weeks). We sell more ‘stuff’.
We find a motorhome we like and put a deposit down. Then we realise we hadn’t actually taken it for a test drive. We go for a test drive.
We get a survey carried out on the van. We are advised not to buy it. We buy it anyway. (It has in fact, been a brilliant van). We sell more junk, errr, I mean, ‘stuff’, and give what’s left to charity or friends and family. We have no furniture bar two camp chairs, an airbed and a T.V.
By now we are living in one room with the above mentioned simple furnishings (the rest of the place is bare). A sparse Christmas comes. A sparse Christmas goes. We’re still waiting for the property sale to complete. We’re fed up and blame the solicitors (quite rightly too).
January 6th 2016
We finally move out (with half an hour’s notice to vacate following completion), and go to buy the van. With the garage closing for the night just as we arrive to collect the van. We end up with no idea of how to do a thing with it. Naturally, we run out of gas and of course that night is literally freezing. We go back to the garage the next day for a crash course in van management.
And so our adventures, travels and experiences began …
You may be thinking. “What the Dickens does this have to do with boats, sailing or sailors (classic or otherwise)?” Well bear with us, as this journey organically plots its course from the traditional lifestyle to one of relaxed adventure – with the odd boat or two to keep us company.
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