Living-aboard in Times of Covid

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake!”Withnail and I

The movie Withnail and I is a hilarious, cult status black comedy set in 1969 London about two young, co-habiting, out-of-work actors: Withnail being played by a young Richard E Grant. In an attempt to escape the drugs and rock and roll drop-out culture of the city they drive to their uncle’s rustic country cottage for a long weekend, only to discover that they are not cut out for country life at all, and it had been, in short, a bad idea.

Social Distancing Christmas – going for a quiet paddle on Christmas Day

And so it is that many thousands of people find themselves in situations where they would never have been if only they had known that a pandemic would bring the world’s transport, economy and healthcare systems to their knees for over a year…

Here in Ibiza, for example, where the economy is based almost solely around tourism, the once notoriously effervescent and crowded bars and beaches are all but deserted and silent – ghost towns now frequented by occasional masked, mouthless figures, heads down, busy relearning the most elemental art of basic economic survival.

In Madrid it is not just the healthcare system that is failing, but social services, as a shanty town of people who have lost their jobs, and subsequently their homes, spreads like a dark stain in the abnormally deep snow around the outskirts of the capital. If only this story we’re living through were a black comedy in the 1960s. Instead it is shaping up more like a dark and foreboding science fiction.

Pirates of the marina

If we had known there would be a pandemic that would confine us to the island perhaps we would have thought twice about letting our rental flat go to move onto the boat. If we had known that said pandemic would tragically take the life of my stepfather in the UK and that we would be unable to travel home to support my mother then we would have moved back to the UK. The decisions we have had to make these past six months have not been easy, and at the same time we haven’t had much choice.

Likewise, we would not have become embroiled in the epic saga of applying for Spanish residency post-Brexit. If we had been gifted with the foresight of any one of these events, we wouldn’t have bought a boat at all.

Everything is clearer in hindsight.

Yet here we are, a British family of four and a large dog, stuck in Ibiza on a boat that is, according to a horrified family member, “smaller than a bedroom”, during level 4 Covid restrictions, homeschooling, and Brexit…

“that boat looks smaller than my bedroom” (and it probably is)

In many ways it is better to be living on a boat. It is, by nature, the ultimate in ‘social distancing’ and when we get tired of the same view out the window we simply up anchor and move. On calm days we can take our whole house out for a sail, into the bright blue wilderness that is the Mediterranean sea during Covid lockdown, drink in the fresh air, and dive into the cool, refreshing waters…

Sailing is the ultimate in social distancing – Finlay out in an optimist a friend lent us to teach the kids to sail. Since Covid confinement the bay is quieter by the week, and there is now a campaign to prevent the ferries returning to San Antonio; the posidonia sea grass has started to recover and dolphins and even whales have returned to the bay for the first time in many years.

We are in fact, midst all this chaos, feeling very fortunate. To have a roof over our heads, albeit small, wind-swept and leaking like a sieve during the winter storms. For Dom to be able to work remotely. For the food on the table, drinking water from the tap, toilets and hot showers at the end of the pontoon, and plug in electricity that powers a small heater to take the chill off the colder, damper nights of the Mediterranean in Winter (yes, it did get down to zero for a week or two in January). And last, but not least for the technological bounty of video-calling; being able to connect with distant friends and family at the push of a button.

During a 3 hour sail we only saw three small fishing boats in the once bustling San Antonio bay

We are also enjoying being part of the San Antonio marina community – a random collection of people living on boats because like us, for one reason or another, they have no-where else to go. We share knowledge, tools, boat repairs, food, and good company, and the days of more oppressive social distancing pass by all the quicker for it. Based on news coverage from around the world and good long video chats with friends and family back home, the reestablishment of community support systems has been one of the few good things that have arisen as a result of the virus.

It turns out that when the chips are down, what is most important to us all is the support and well-being of our fellow human being.

As I am typing this the sunshine has returned to the island after a month of cold, wet and violently storms; born on the winds of heavy snow on the continent. The kids sit round the tiny table with me learning French on Duolingo and BBC Bitesize, and we have just received an email confirming the progress of our Spanish residency application – we now have NIE European identity cards.

It is true for many reasons that we have moved onto a boat “by mistake”. But equally, given the current situation, there aren’t many other places we’d rather be right now, and as the global socio-economic-health dust storm of 2020 slowly begins to settle, we will tentatively set our sights on home.

Fig tree, sea and a single sail
Working remotely on-board
Nature returns to the unusually quiet bay

Saving Floss – a lesson in how to repair a shipwreck

Fixing Floss, a story in photos…

On 5th October, 2019 we bought Floss from a private seller in San Antonio bay, Ibiza. She’s a Catalac 9m, small fibreglass catamaran, built in 1983 in Christchurch, UK. She lived in Poole harbour for many years before being sailed to Greece, where the previous owners bought her and moved her to Ibiza.

Floss was Dom’s dream boat… just about. A catamaran slightly larger than the Diamond 24 we co-own with some friends in Scotland, with just enough space for a family of 4 to live on in relative comfort, and fitting within our ‘non luxury boat owner’ price-range.

As a 36 year old boat, she was in need of some renovations, which the previous owners were part-way through. However, after she was torn from her mooring and wrecked on the beach during a week of storms in Ibiza just four weeks after we bought her, she was in need of a whole lot more.

A story that would break our hearts, break our bank accounts, and almost break our family apart…



Floss’s first sail… San Antonio to Cala Salada, at sunset. October 2019
Sunset over Conejera island
Finn Learning to row the dinghy with Lily-dog helping him and Ben photo-bombing! San Antonio Bay. Even in the first week of owning Floss she was already enriching our lives.


I (Alex) leave for the UK for two weeks to look after my mother as she had a knee operation. Dom stayed in Ibiza to look after the kids, dog and boat… Strong winds were forecast and as I shut the garden gate behind me I suggested getting Floss into a marina for the week just in case. Dom said he’d think about it but it would be hard on his own and with the kids in tow, and in the end decided against it as the mooring block she was on was sound. A decision that we immediately came to regret.

The wind blew strong from the West tearing right through San Antonio bay for 7 days, whipping up 4m waves and Floss bounced around on her mooring with the other boats in the bay. Dom managed to get out to her to secure some extra mooring lines in the dinghy of a neighbour’s boat, braving the storm, but the very next day she was found washed up on the beach along with several other boats from the bay. The constant movement of the waves had ripped three mooring cleats from the deck, and she dragged anchor onto the beach, unfortunately via some rocks…

Floss on the beach, a scuba team attempting (and failing) to float her into the marina, 8th November 2019
High and dry. Phase one of boat salvage complete – Floss is moved up the beach out of the water…

After much searching, and two weeks sleeping aboard a shipwreck to protect it from opportunistic thieves, Dom found a ‘grua’ company who could move Floss to a boatyard. It was no easy feat as being a catamaran she was wider than the tow-truck and would require a police escort.

The kids enjoy watching the crane moving the boat
Planning how to lift her
Is it a bird…? Is it a plane…??
One hull gutted like a giant fish, entrails hanging out… 🙁
Once she was on the trailer we could really assess the damage. Unfortunately the process of moving her had enlarged the hole.
Arriving at the boat yard…
Removing a tonne of sand from the hull, and one large stone…


We began the repair work ourselves, however the boat-yard stipulated that we must have an experienced fibreglass expert repair the hull and all their team were fully booked til Spring. So we asked around found a fibreglass engineer on the island who could work with us, fitting us in in his spare time as he loved that we were repairing an old boat to live on as our home. And then the work began in earnest…

Both hulls, the good and the bad, were cleaned back and prepared.
The jagged edges were cut away to prepare for a new fibreglass hull to be layered up from the inside out
A cast was taken of the good hull and the applied over the hole, and a new layer of fibreglass created

Building up layers of fibre to create a mould of the good side
Marking up the mould
Cleaning up the holey side ready for the mould

Cutting away the floor inside to access the area needing fibreglassing
Putting the mould on wheels to move it over
The mould is bolted on
The fibreglass was layered up from the inside to create a new hull, and then the mould was removed
No more hole!

Cleaning inside
Repairing the cut-away floors


An old boat that has been wrecked doesn’t just need the hole repairing, there were also electrics and many other jobs to do.


Repairing the old rudders
Cleaning and sanding the hulls to prepare for copper-coat anti-fouling
Testing the batteries
Replacing the broken cleats
Cleaning the water tanks
Re-installing the solar panels after their frame was broken by the crane, and one panel was stolen whilst the boat was stuck on the beach.
The plastic work tent used to contain the fibreglass dust comes down.
More work on the electrics – the boat was completely rewired
The boat was also completely re-plumbed
More work on the inside of the new hull
Smoothing of the new hull and preparation for copper-coat
Waste pipes go in.
The copper-coat is applied
Ain’t she pretty!
Ready for launch… 🙂

JULY 2020

On the 7th of July Floss was relaunched from Ibiza town harbour, and we sailed all night in light winds, and by the light of the full moon, round to San Antonio bay to pick up a mooring not so far away from the one she’d been torn from the Autumn before. Only this time we would not be taking any more chances with storms…

Floss, San Antonio bay, July 2020

Ibiza by Boat

Floss – the story so far…

We bought Floss, a nine metre Catalac catamaran, in the Autumn last year and two weeks after buying her strong winds tore her from the mooring and left her washed up on a beach nearby with one hull gauged open from bow to stern, looking very much like she’d been attacked by a giant tin opener. The Winter flew by, the weeks marked by our sweat, blood and tears (and euros) fixing her. Then further delayed by strict Spanish covid-19 quarantine laws, we finally relaunched Floss the first week in July 2020.

As I sit aboard Floss typing this, surrounded by half finished projects on the boat, it is very hard to believe that we have have been living aboard as a family for two months now. In some ways I was expecting to be more advanced with our non-essential boat repairs as well as our travels, but in other ways I wake every morning simply amazed and grateful that we are even here at all.

The weather this Summer has been distractingly balmy and the waters a divinely inviting crystal clear blue, Ibiza tunes drifting by on the breeze off the beach… Where I sit right now, Es Vedra – a large magnetic rock – rising majestically out of the sea, guarding the entrance to Cala D’Hort bay, and I have to confess that it is really hard to get any work done. I have over a 1000 photos and videos to share with you and countless adventures and stories to tell which I will endeavour to do so as I steadily get used to our new rhythm of life on the sea.

But for now, here are some photos of where we are right now to keep you going…

         To help paint the scene, Dom is working, the boys are off sailing on a friend’s proa and the (wet) dog is curled up by my feet having just got in from her third swim of the day, it’s 6pm and 28 degrees with a gentle breeze and we are anchored in the midst of around 20 other boats in the magical Cala D’Hort, situated on the south west corner of Ibiza.

Es Vedra
Vedra by moonlight