BEAT CORNWALL'S HOUSING CRISIS AND HEAD FOR LIFE ON THE SEA

PUBLISHED: 17:02 05 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:07 30 August 2017

blue-iguana-sailing-not-great-res

blue-iguana-sailing-not-great-res

Living on a boat in Cornwall can mean living a life less ordinary, especially for children growing up like Jacques Skentelbery from Falmouth

Like many families in Cornwall, the Skentelberys have a passion for the sea. They've lived on board various boats for nearly 25 years - most recently Blue Iguana, a 40-foot wooden yacht built by shipwright Andy and his wife Julie between 2002 and 2004 in Looe.

Over the last decade the Falmouth-based Blue Iguana has safely carried them on numerous voyages including two Atlantic Crossings and today they continue to set sail at every opportunity.

But while life on a boat might suit a couple - can you raise a family at sea? The Skentelberys think so - and they should know. When the family travelled their two children were educated by their parents; learning about the world first-hand rather than in a classroom.

They still don't own a house and say that home is where the keel is. Although their daughter, Charlie, now lives on land, the family tradition has continued for son, Jacques, 20, who now lives on his own small boat. Here he takes up his story.

When I first learned I was going to become a regular Jim Hawkins, I can't say I was not excited (as any nine-year-old boy would be). Although after my first few long journeys at sea, the Treasure Island appeal I had envisaged may have seemed rather distant.

'I was born a water baby who's first home was a boat cruising the Mediterranean, but for the early part of my childhood, I remember living in a house - it wasn't to last and I was delighted to hear it,' he says.

'When my parents first started building the boat I grew up on (The Blue Iguana), I spent my time enacting piratical fantasies around the boatyard, with my wooden sword and building Robinson Crusoe rafts to plunge into Looe River.

'So, when I first learned I was going to become a regular Jim Hawkins, I can't say I was not excited (as any nine-year-old boy would be). Although after my first few long journeys at sea, the Treasure Island appeal I had envisaged may have seemed rather distant.

Unlike in the movies when "land ho" hollers down from the crow's nest and a tropical paradise looms over the horizon in less time than it takes to change a camera angle, my time at sea was mostly spent in adolescent tedium (although being at sea might not have been entirely to blame for that).

'Although, now in retrospect, those long hours of watching endless ocean has taught me something far more valuable than the formal education I missed: patience. With little in the way of electronic entertainment and only 40 feet of a wooden atoll to roam I learned the value of imagination, a good book (although 'good' depended availability) and, of course, fishing.

'Growing up on a boat never really struck me as being any different from growing up in a house, until the time came when I returned to school and joined a world populated by countless other children my age and sudden, inescapable sociability. I had spent a long time getting by with the few friends I could find; regardless of age, language or nationality. Boat kids tend to find a companion in whoever they can, because we're never too sure when we'll find another.

'Another stark difference is the ever changing landscape out of the bathroom window (heads porthole if you're feeling a little nautical); from the sometimes grey skies of Cornwall backlighting Falmouth docks to the palm fringed Pitons of St Lucia. The only permanency of my childhood home was the timbers the Blue Iguana was built from.

'A lifestyle like this can be an incredible experience for anyone but living like that since I was a child has left me with a bit of itchy feet syndrome. I suppose that'll be why I've ended up living on my own boat, a 23ft Newbridge Virgo Voyager based in Falmouth.

I also remember the first time I took a pair of oars in my hands and rowed out to sea, the first dolphins I saw lacing their way off the bow waves of our home and the first storm I weathered (that part may have sounded quite brave but I was young and cried the whole way through).

'Living on a boat didn't deprive me of the childhood memories most people share: I still remember taking the stabilisers off my first bicycle, the underwear dousing fears of my first day at school and the prepubescent epiphany that gender had distinct and differing definitions. But from growing up on the water, I also remember the first time I took a pair of oars in my hands and rowed out to sea, the first dolphins I saw lacing their way off the bow waves of our home and the first storm I weathered (that part may have sounded quite brave but I was young and cried the whole way through).

'Some memories of life at sea I hold as cherished treasures, others fearful cavities in my mind but all of them totally invaluable. Swimming with a Mako shark in blue water three miles deep, riding out a tropical storm in the Canary Islands, flying across the boat and cracking my head open in my fir=

st jaunt across the channel. All slightly unnerving experiences but nonetheless, invaluable.

'Like many day-to-day cruising experiences, the story of the Mako shark sounds like a tall tale but I assure you it is true. We were sailing a month long voyage between the Canary Islands and the Caribbean. Around 15 days in, a short while after Christmas day, we hit an area of incessant doldrums (no wind). With the Blue Iguana lamely bobbing across the Atlantic Ocean my father and I decided to take a dip.

'Blue water swimming is an experience unlike any other; it is more akin to floating in the stratosphere than edging a toe into the channel. The water is unnervingly deep, two miles or so in most places past the continental shelf. We pushed off from our floating home and swam some distance away from the boat, watching her nearly disappear between the great rollers of the open ocean swell.

'After a time we returned to the relative security of the Blue Iguana and began to climb aboard, as the last of our rather lucky extremities left the water the shark appeared. Ten feet long, full of teeth and quite dissatisfied at seeing its dinner ascend into the world above. It had been sheltering=

in the shade beneath the boat and for all we know had been biding its time. It made a slight turn off the stern, gave us an incredible view of its prodigious flank and swam away, looking for other game.

'Across the world there are many adults who shared a similar nomadic childhood, learning from adventures good and bad. We know what it is to enjoy life without a games console; to mix with all nationalities and solve our own problems without recourse to an "expert". How would I be different if I'd had a more traditional upbringing? It's hard to say but aside from a few knocks and scrapes (and a close encounter with a Mako shark) I don't think growing up on a boat has damaged me in the least - unless you want to count my incurably itchy feet.'

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