E's from Aboard
2008 Summarised

Photos with the summary


As with previous years, the E-mails 2008 were posted straight to our website, kindly set-up and managed by our good friend and kindred sailing spirit, Rod Day. 

Index of Content:

  1. A synopsis of a dreadful winter
  2. To The Isles of Scilly and Charlie Girl IV but no sailing yet
  3. Easter BBQ in Aghios Nikolaos and re-rigging CGIV in expectation
  4. A hopeless final operation, an unexpected result and a trip is planned
  5. Return to CGIV, setting sail, joined by Rod & Pat and escaping Crete’s clutches
  6. New places to see for Rod & Pat, disaster strikes and the trip is terminated
  7. The terminal prognosis, “Let’s have one more trip”, a fantastic three week sail, returning home and treatment begins
  8. Treatment goes well, the travel ban is lifted, a September week in France
  9. CGIV is visited for two weeks, a couple of sails had and some Aghios delights described
  10. A further fortnight on CGIV, a last sail (?), surprisingly good news on return
  11. Extended Christmas celebrations, friends and families kindness and generosity

 

Note

Many of the places sailed to are covered in a little more detail within the Port Appendices elsewhere on the website.

 

E From Aboard 2008/1

With this being the opening paragraph of the first E from Aboard for 2008 you will naturally assume we are aboard Charlie Girl IV enjoying the pre-Spring warming sunshine and the good company of our fellow yachting friends in Aghios Nikolaos marina.  Regrettably, as many of you will already know, we are still at home in Devon after a most stressful, frightening and worrying four months. 

I (Richard) am writing this partly as we do all our E’s, to inform and entertain our family, friends and anyone else who cares to read them and also as a diary which we can look back on in years’ to come, but this time with the additional reason of it helping me personally to cope with the stress of the trauma and avoid the potential consequences of excessive, unmanaged stress.   So, please bear with me. 

Shortly after our return home on the 10th of November Charlie found herself short of breath and I had noticed her night time breathing was short and hurried.  A visit to our GP seemed sensible.  Charlie telephoned him, describing her symptoms and he asked her to come in immediately.  On examining her, he suggested I drive her straight to the Emergency Medical Unit at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital while he phoned ahead to explain his concerns about his diagnosis of her right lung not inflating properly.  On arrival Charlie was swiftly admitted as a day patient and a series of blood tests and x-rays soon eliminated the possibility of a blood clot and thus with no ready explanation for her condition, the EMU Consultant, Tom Whitehead, personally walked her back down to the x-ray department for a CT Scan.  The scan identified a large fist-sized abnormality behind her breastbone.   By 5pm that day we knew it was a malignant tumour.  Further exploration over the next two days also found a thickening of her Pericardium (the sack surrounding the heart) and a large amount of fluid between it and her heart; it further confirmed the tumour was a well advanced cancer of the Thymic gland, a very rare cancer indeed.  The prognosis was not good. 

Within a couple of days further biopsies were taken and we were referred to a Consultant Oncologist, Liz Toy, who caringly explained the results and the complexity and difficulty of dealing with this type of cancer in this difficult location.  She proposed an aggressive regime of combined Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy followed by, if that was successful in shrinking the tumour, surgery by a Thoracic Surgeon to remove as much of the tumour as possible; hopefully, all of it.  The tumour had already disabled the nerve controlling her right lung’s diaphragm causing it to fail and explaining the shortness of breath. Pathology were unable to diagnose the cause of the thickening of the pericardium or absolutely say the fluid surrounding the heart was benign.  It was decided to accept that uncertainty for now and treat the tumour. 

As you might imagine we were shocked, devastated and terrified of the possible outcome.  This was to be Charlie’s third battle with totally unrelated cancers in her life and perhaps the toughest.  It is just not fair on top of all else she has had to endure.   But you have to battle on and so we agreed to the treatment starting in mid-December.  It is an extremely unpleasant process with many potentially debilitating and painful side-effects as well as a particularly degrading for a women, loss of hair. 

The scripted Chemotherapy was for four three-day sessions at three weeks intervals, the first day of each session being administered as a day patient in hospital and the following two days self-administered at home.  We were briefed in detail as to the potential side-effects and what to do if and when they occurred.  Infection of any kind is a very high risk and any contact with infection was to be avoided at all costs, a fact we were to experience three weeks after the first session when a sore throat went to a pneumonic chest infection within four hours, causing her second session delayed for four days. 

In conjunction with the third session of Chemotherapy, a five week daily session of Radiotherapy was to be started that would carry some similar and a few different potential side-effects.  It was to be applied through her chest at the front, through her back and both sides, a terrifying thought with all the vital organs surrounding the tumour that were likely to pick up collateral damage as a result. 

Charlie withstood these treatments well for all but the last ten days when the side-effects became quite debilitating.  Nonetheless the treatment was completed on Friday 29 February with just one unscheduled trip to the hospital for some intravenous anti-sickness treatment and, in conjunction with a scheduled overnight stay, a blood transfusion to boost her blood count sufficiently to enable her to withstand the last session of Chemotherapy. 

Her relief on completion of the scripted treatment was palpable but celebration impossible. She could hardly swallow at all and then only liquids.  Her sense of taste had gone haywire and anything she did manage to swallow was liable to come straight back up again and she had lost an enormous amount of weight in a matter of a couple of weeks.  She had even lost her taste for wine.  Fortunately her general blood count was surprisingly high albeit her immune system very low; a normal consequence of each session of Chemotherapy. 

A Cat Scan had been done on that Friday and we were to get the results after the various Consultants had examined the resultant images and had the Radiologists interpretation of their meaning and all had met to discuss ‘what comes next’ on Tuesday morning.  It was going to be a long and worrying wait; 30 to 40% of these tumours do not respond to treatment in which case surgery would be pointless if not impossible. 

Sleep was understandably fitful that night and unexpectedly brought to an abrupt halt at 2.15am when Charlie woke with a violent and constant pain in her chest.  As part of the excellent supportive care we had received from the hospital team was 24 hour, 7-day a week access to specialist phone advice.  Richard dialled the night-time number, briefly described the symptoms to the answering specialist cancer nurse, answered two or three of her questions and was told “put down the phone, dial 999, Charlie is having a cardiac event”.  The ambulance service were prompt and efficient, taking the address first and assuring Richard the ambulance was already on its way whilst she asked a series of pertinent questions, concluding with “the ambulance is now just nine minutes away”.  When it didn’t arrive in 15 minutes Richard was about to ring again when the phone rang.  It was the ambulance service lady again, informing us that there was a tree down over the road just a quarter-of-a-mile short of our house.  The raging storm that had brought it down was the worst of the winter thus far.  The paramedic was a local, had knocked up a nearby cottage whose occupant had grabbed his chainsaw and was cutting the tree to bits as we spoke.  Ten minutes later they were with us and working on a, thankfully, still conscious Charlie.  The trip to the hospital was uneventful if rocky in the gale force wind. 

The worst four days of my life followed whilst they worked constantly on, as we saw it then, keeping Charlie alive in intensive care.  By Sunday morning they had pretty well eliminated the possibility of the pain having been a heart attack and subsequently, a blood clot on the lung, an equally worrying possibility being so close to the heart.  On Sunday afternoon the Consultant cardiologist visited us and confirmed that whilst he was fairly sure this was not a cardiac event that treatment would continue until further tests and scans on Monday and Tuesday could confirm his thoughts.  He was concentrating on our original worry about the thickening of the pericardium and the fluid around the heart even though most of the fluid had previously been surgically removed and advised us he would be bringing his thoughts to the attention of his Consultant colleagues for the Tuesday meeting. 

Charlie was thin, pale, drawn and completely exhausted after the three months of treatment, exacerbated by her inability to eat or drink sufficiently during the latter ten days of the treatment and the past week’s traumas.  I was by then constantly distressed at just how ill and frail she looked and despite assurances to the contrary, deeply concerned for her survival. 

By Tuesday afternoon our thoughts slowly turned to the previously arranged but now somewhat expanded Consultant meeting; something we had not given much thought for four days but were now viewing the possible results with increasing negativity and depression: our morale was at an all time low. 

Later that afternoon our appointed Specialist Cancer Nurse, Sandra Collison, who had caringly steered us both through the treatment, bounced into the cardiac ward with a big beaming smile on her face and flamboyantly whisked the curtain round Charlie’s bed.  “Ok.  In brief, the treatment scripted by Liz Toy (the Consultant Oncologist) has shrunk the tumour and Mr Beresford (the Thoracic Surgeon) is prepared to operate.  He has one appointment left for this Thursday afternoon if you would like it for you to discuss it with him or would you rather wait a week or two?”  We immediately opted for Thursday despite Charlie’s evident very poor condition. 

We then discussed how important it was to get Charlie’s strength back.  Whilst her weight was not abnormally low the weight loss over the previous fortnight had been excessive and her lack of calorific input debilitating.  Dietician’s advice had been sought on the Friday and Charlie was to follow it with a view to re-building her strength as quickly as possible.  This could be done in hospital or at home as we wished; we opted for home. 

On returning home we went straight on the Internet looking for a short break to aide that recovery and boost our waning morale.  A short break in a luxurious hotel in the Scilly Isles was booked.  We had never got round to visiting the Scillies despite having been encouraged on numerous occasions by Andrew & Jeanne Cooper themselves great lovers of the islands and Andrew having produced a programme about them for the Beeb and written and published a book to support the programme. 

Expectations of our meeting with the surgeon were as varied as was what he had to tell us as he took us back and forth through the original and latest CAT Scan images.  What he had to say included, “as you can see the tumour has shrunk in comparison with the early diagnostic scan.  It is probably around the main nerve to your right lung and we may not be able to remove the tumour without losing the nerve completely.  That would mean you will lose the benefit of your right lung entirely but life with one lung is perfectly feasible and won’t stop you doing anything you currently do, including sailing; you will just be a little slower.  It is also, as you can see, around your aorta and we cannot remove that so, if it will not come freely from around that and your pericardium we may have to leave a few staple marked bits of tumour for later treatment by chemo or radiotherapy.  Do you wish to go ahead with the operation?”   Much detailed debate followed on the procedure, its risks and the recovery period but there was never any doubt in Charlie’s mind; we were going ahead.  Wednesday the 16th of April was the date and he wanted Charlie in the day before to do one or two more investigatory procedures before operating.  His approach, whilst wholly realistic as to potential outcomes, gave us confidence and raised our morale. 

In discussing the timetable for the operation and recovery we broached the subject of going out to our yacht and the fact that we had, before all this started, booked our flights out and they were tomorrow morning, the 7th of March; we had yet to re-book them or lose the money.  His reaction was brilliant, “Go. Go. Go now, no need to cancel them.  Come back for the operation.  It will do you nothing but good.  Worry not at all”.  We had been told his surgical ability and reputation was internationally renowned.  If his bedside manner is anything by which to judge his operating skills, they underestimate his value. 

The NHS, its doctors, nurses and managers come in for a lot of unnecessarily public criticism and condemnation in the press and the media in general.  We just wish that everyone, particularly the journalists, could have been with both of us for the past four months to see just how well and efficiently we were treated.  And I mean “we”; it included me as well as Charlie when ever that was appropriate.  The hospital’s relationship with our local cancer charity, “Force”, was equally beneficial.  They have had a purpose built support centre built within the hospital grounds and there is an interchange of staff in both establishments.  Force provide support staff in the Oncology Centre, running tea bars and cafeteria facilities as well as coming round and taking drink orders every few minutes.  Within their own centre they provide drinks, biscuits, aromatherapy sessions, ‘look good feel good’ sessions and a wig service, all of which is free on delivery to patient and carers (me!) and partly funded by the hospital; the wig budget of £300 per patient from the NHS and £250’s worth of make-up from their manufacturers, for instance.  This combined service was delivered with a speed and efficiency which, despite our long running and generally good experience with the health service, public and private, left us speechless at times.  Despite being so evidently over-stretched most of the time, the Consultants, technicians, doctors, nurses and administrative staff always dealt with us calmly, quietly and with a smile on their faces when that was appropriate.  As for Government targets, well you could forget them.  At every stage we were surprised at the speed with which each stage or change in programme was organised and delivered.  Only once did wait beyond the calling time for an appointment and then by just an hour because the surgeon was delayed in theatre; pretty amazing out of nearly 70 separate but interlinked appointments.  Even the car park cost was subsidised for treatments though not visits or consultation appointments; who can complain at contributing 20p a day to ward funds? 

So here we are, about to depart for few days in the Scilly Isles and then to fly out to Our Girl in Aghios Nikolaos for four weeks of rest and recuperation amongst our sailing friends.  It will be full of Spring-like promise and expectation upon which we shall feed as all and sundry prepare their boats for another summer’s cruising and adventure whilst the owners of villas, hotels, shops and tavernas happily prepare for another influx of holidaymakers.  The weather will be warm and sunny and should the winds be light we may even take CGIV up the coast a few miles to anchor in bay for the night near Spinalonga to absorb the peace and tranquillity it provides.  In any event, Our Girl lies pointing broadly west with her cockpit thus facing east where we will no doubt rise early enough each morning to watch the sun rising over the distant mountains and its light producing dancing twinkles on the rippling sea’s surface raised in the gentle early morning breeze. 

What of our plans after that?  We have already, optimistically, booked our flight back out for the 28th of May and after that, all being well, we shall make our way up to the Ionian covering our favourite spots on our way to our favourite area, the Northern Ionian. 

Our next E will be From Aboard and, we hope, full of glad tidings.

 

  E From Aboard 2008/2

The Scilly Isles

Recuperation for Charlie and for both of us, “getting away from it all” was the reasoning behind going to the Scillies plus a little bit of “well, we’ve always said we should go there and Andrew & Jeanne say it is fabulous”.  When the Consultant Surgeon said, “Go, go, go out to your yacht; go tomorrow” we did debate whether to leave our flights as they were, booked for us to fly out to Crete the following morning, but that would have been a hell of a rush and panic and neither of us had the energy for that.  So we booked to go to the Star Hotel on St. Mary’s for the following Tuesday, the 11th of March, returning home on Friday the 14th, re-packing and heading up to Gatwick on Sunday the 16th for flights out to Crete on Monday the 17th.  It seemed a fairly relaxed and achievable itinerary. 

A couple of First Class seats on First Great Western’s Intercity service to Penzance were to set the relaxing scene but on arrival at Newton Abbot station we found the train was running 35 minutes late, just sufficient to make it unlikely we would make the connection for our helicopter flight from Penzance.  And FGW were certainly in a bit of a pickle.  The station announcement on the delay also informed us that the fist class section of the train was at the front of the train; customarily it is at the rear.  The electronic notice board said it was at the rear, as per normal.  It also told us it was the second train to arrive after a Virgin Cross-Country service to Plymouth and whilst that was on screen, the announcer said, “the train now arriving at platform two is the delayed FGW 10.34 service to Penzance.”  In fact, no train was arriving at all! 

Anyway, ten minutes later in she rolls, 40 minutes late and with the first class coaches at the front!  I refused to get stressed and said we would wait until we had passed Plymouth before ringing British International to advise them of our delay.  That we did, to be informed by them it was no problem as our flight was delayed by 90 minutes.  They also confirmed we were on the flight; we checked as, being a late booking, we had no tickets, just the hotel’s e-mail confirmation of our flights and guessed there had been no flights the previous day due to the severe gales.  As it happened FGW have some slack in their timings between Plymouth and Penzance and we arrived there just 15 minutes late, called up the BI courtesy coach, which, incidentally is not a ‘courtesy’ you have to pay £2.00 each for it.  In five minutes it took us to the heliport and we went to check in only to be told rather accusingly “you do not have a booking on the 14.20”.  “Yes we do, you told us we did just an hour ago!”  “No you don’t, show me your tickets.”  “You know we don’t have any tickets, this is an all inclusive hotel booking”.  Further very unpleasant exchanges followed resulting in a reluctant admission by BI that ‘they’ had moved us due to ‘operational reasons’ and we were on the 15.20 and that we would not be flying before 17.30.  Enough said.  Poor service, despicable and rude customer care and their ‘excuse’ was, there having been no flights the day before they had to work through the resultant backlog as if it was the first time they had had bad weather disrupting their flight schedules. 

Thus we arrived at the Star Castle hotel just before dinner, a little bit stressed and with Charlie exhausted.  After dropping our bags in our room we went down to dinner, via a quickie in the Dungeon Bar and, having been offered an extensive wine list, opted for a bottle of the house red to go with our selected meals rather than struggling to select the most appropriate wine.  The courses were absolutely first class, Gurnard on a parsnip puree for me and fig and Goat’s cheese for Charlie followed by Pigeon breasts accompanied by delicious little sweet onion tarts.  Unfortunately the house red was so cold it was almost undrinkable and certainly no accompaniment for the excellent plate of Cornish cheeses that completed our meal. 

The available breakfasts, smoked salmon and scrambled egg, smoked haddock and poached egg or any variation or selection from a full English breakfast, as well as the following two evening meals were equally superb as were the wines we subsequently chose from the wine list; that alone justified our trip. 

The first night’s sleep started fitfully as the gale again increased in intensity to an estimated force 10 gusting 11 that, as we discovered in the morning, had caused some damage to the roofs.  We were on the windward side of the hotel and, being a fortification built to enable a good lookout to be kept, it has no surrounding protection, thus we were open to the full force of the gale blasting in from the Atlantic Ocean.  It rattled our windows so hard we felt sure they would be blown in or sucked out.  But we need not have worried, the building had clearly endured worse than that in its history and we were safely tucked up in an enormous comfy bed behind two-foot thick stone walls that eventually lulled us into a deep and refreshing sleep. 

Our choice of hotel was otherwise unfortunate in that it sat quite high up on a promontory accessed by a very steep path and roadway.  Walking down to Hugh Town the first morning was fine but struggling back up was almost too much for Charlie; ten or twelve stops were made in just a quarter of a mile for her to get her breath back enough to continue the arduous and to her, seemingly endless climb back up to the hotel.  However, that afternoon after an extended nap we had a lovely mainly level walk around the grassed and partially tree-clad promontory with some stunning views out over the sea to the surrounding islands as well as passing and exploring some of the fortifications constructed there over the centuries.

Thursday brought a return to wet and windy weather after the briefly calm and sunny Wednesday.  Charlie had also halved her morphine dosage on Wednesday and with the exertions of the walks and climb back to the hotel, paid the price on Thursday, waking in the morning feeling worse than she had for several days.  Most of her day was spent in bed with a brief trip down into Hugh Town for lunch of a bowl of soup at the Atlantic Inn. 

Friday morning brought more gloom as we woke up to discover we could see little from our window due to swirling fog.  Our flight home that lunchtime seemed very unlikely especially when we were told over breakfast that the previous afternoon’s flights had not been made.  Our hotelier was even more distressed as he was holding half-a-dozen tickets for England –v- Ireland at Twickenham and five of those tickets were for chaps already on the mainland.  He had to get off the island!  After breakfast we found him in reception attempting to charter a boat to take him across so we thought it would make sense to join him, particularly as our new computer had crashed terminally and there was just Saturday for us to get that fixed before departing for Crete on Sunday. 

And so it was we found ourselves boarding a twenty foot rib in a lumpy sea for a somewhat risky and bumpy ride across a stretch of sea strewn with numerous wrecks to Land’s End and then on to Penzance.  Obviously we made it safely or you would not be reading this but the other seven passengers that joined the trip, unlike us, spent most of the trip outside of the covered cockpit, to avoid the worst of the bumps and the potential that gave for seasickness and getting soaking wet in the process. 

The rail trip home was largely uneventful apart from a little minor amusement caused by the slow traversing of a few miles near Lostwithiel due to “trespassers on the track”, or so we were told over the intercom by our train manager. 

Rod and Pat kindly picked us up from the station and were to join us at home in a Chinese takeaway after we had lit the fire.  On walking in our front door and taking the bags to the foot of the stairs, water was spotted running down the wall.  We had yet another water leak from the boiler situated above that point.  Just what else could go wrong this winter? 

Investigation was hampered by the landing light bulb failing thus giving no light into the boiler cupboard.  No problem, just change the bulb!  In so doing the old bulb shattered spreading shards of glass all over the landing.  Someone has got it in for us!

The leak was not too serious and seemed to stop each time the boiler shut down which was just as well as we could get no answer from the plumber that fitted it just a year before.  In fact, even when contacted on Saturday he could not visit until Monday which would be after we had departed for Crete.  But old faithful stepped in and took that over, bless him.  Just what would we do without Rod & Pat’s support and help?

 

Back to Aghios Nikolaos and Charlie Girl IV

After all our trials and tribulations (we haven’t mentioned the chimney failure that created a drama that cost a few grand to solve and left us with no fire for ten days, that is our only means of heating on the ground floor apart from the Aga, and that failed at the same time!!  Plus having arranged for the house to be completely redecorated internally as well as Richard having started to completely rip out the study, reorganise and redecorate it so we could turn the landing into a little sun lounge, thus having to finish it despite Charlie’s subsequent diagnosis.  Did we mention our computer died and took all its data with it and the most recent back-up was corrupt so we had nothing from October to December on file, thus had to purchase a new laptop and re-do all the lost data, bank accounts included.  And then the Scillies trip) we were inclined to think there would be a railway strike and we would miss our flight only to find there were no seats then available to get us to Athens before we were due back, or even if we got to Athens, the Greeks would be on strike so we couldn’t continue to Crete. 

It was not so.  The train to Reading was spot on time.  The one from there to Gatwick was 20 minutes late because they had lost the train manager but that didn’t matter. 

Bob and Anne were waiting on the platform and Vicky and Chris were waiting at the Hilton Hotel where we (Charlie & Richard) had booked a room for the night.  We sat in the reception lounge and had a most enjoyable chat with them all over a drink or two (couldn’t afford to drink there very often; thirty quid for a bottle of bog standard supermarket Chardonnay) before Vicky and Chris caught their train home and we went off with Bob and Anne for a most enjoyable light supper.  Bed was dropped into around 22.30 with the alarm set for an 04.30 rise. 

Our bags had been checked in the night before allowing us a leisurely bath and a cup of tea before passing through security and picking up our flight to Athens.  It arrived half-an-hour early giving us ample time to check in for our Aegean Airlines onward flight to Herakleon and for Charlie to enjoy a little bit of retail therapy as well as a very small glass of wine, her first for many days, before heading for the departure gate.  Spotting a Citibank cash point (they are as rare as a lottery win and we bank with Citibank) we stopped to draw some Euros from our Euro account.  Card in, pin number accepted, amount selected and accepted, “please wait whilst we process your request” on screen, all was fine, accept the message was still there five minutes later and nothing else was happening.  After some frantic enquiries at the nearby exchange facility, no progress had been made and we were now late for boarding.  Then thankfully it spat out our card but gave no indication if it was going to give us any money.  Then, finally, after a further five very long minutes up came a message that enabled us to leave with reasonable certainty it was not going to spit out our money for someone else to collect, “sorry this machine is temporarily out of service”. 

Apart from a one wheel scary landing in a gale force cross wind at Herakleon the rest of the trip was as planned and on time.  Robin (reliant) and Pauline had hired a car to come and pick us up and drive us in sedate style on to Aghios Nikolaos and Our Girl who was sitting comfortably at her berth, gleaming like a new pin having been nicely scrubbed down by Udo prior to our arrival.  However, Crete was being her usual self.  It was warm and it was sunny but it was also very windy, causing CGIV to tug furiously at her mooring ropes like a tethered bull keen to get at a nearby cow on heat.

It was nonetheless good to be home, our second home, and to be warmly and caringly welcomed by our marina abiding friends. 

Now to relax, put Charlie’s ghastly treatment behind us, give little thought to returning for the operation in four weeks time but concentrate on soaking up the Spring atmosphere of the marina with people scurrying around getting their boats back in the water and ready for another summer’s cruising and the town equally busy preparing for the annual influx of tourists.  And there is an ex-pat Easter celebration coming up next weekend with spit-roast lamb and suckling pig but more of that next time! 

 

E From Aboard 2008/3

All will be pleased to hear that Charlie’s strength and general well-being is steadily returning to normal and, equally important, she is eating more or less normally and, most important, drinking wine again! 

Life on the marina is as expected for this time of year, full of excitement and expectation.  Some have left here already, others are planning to leave by the end of March which is pretty early for most though is when we would normally depart.  For others this seems to be motivated by the change from winter marina charges to summer charges on the 1st April whereas previously the change took place on the 1st of May; not all are on the tasty, cheap, five year, all-inclusive contract we took out a couple of years ago and thus find their monthly costs doubling.  Sadly, it also looks as if most, if not all, of our friends will have departed before we return at the end of May.  In the meantime fun will be had in their company. 

Easter is an ideal excuse for celebration and the expat community here need little excuse to party.  There is a BBQ every Sunday throughout the winter and throughout the summer for those who reside here more or less permanently.  This year a big Easter BBQ was planned before we arrived with a lot of fingers crossed by those organising it as they had committed themselves to buying a suckling pig and a lamb and needed thirty people to join in just to cover the cost.  They needn’t have worried.  Before the end of the week before Easter, forty folk had committed and paid which meant there wasn’t going to be enough meat, or so they thought; more was ordered. 

On Easter Saturday, a gaggle of gabbling folk dressed in variously coloured, mainly tatty, shorts and tee-shirts, traipsed off to a nearby local butcher to collect two previously deposited spit poles onto which the butcher had kindly mounted two lambs, a sucking pig, a half pig; half a goat in pre-cut joints was donated by the Marina to add to the feast.  We weren’t going to starve.  This motley crowd made an amusing sight, parading down the street with tomorrow’s lunch held aloft by four in their midst.  Still, it is typical of what the Greeks will be doing for their Easter celebrations which this year is a month later than ours. 

Last year’s excessive heat caused us to design a white awning to cover CGIV’s full beam from the mast back to the end of the boom, around 24m² of material which, if made of sailcloth would be quite heavy so we had it made in Stamoid, a new material to us that is relatively light but strong.  The afternoon was spent rigging it, cutting and fitting elasticated ties with which to tie it to the safety rail on both beams, the boom end and the mast at the gooseneck.  All seemed to work well and all we needed was to see if it could withstand a bit of wind.  A breeze was forecast for the Sunday so we left it rigged for the night. 

After our efforts we slopped off to Ela’s for our supper and were warmly greeted by the owner.  Observantly, he noticed Charlie’s thin hair, guessed the cause and from then on made a huge fuss of her.  An enormous spaghetti Napolitano for her and even larger Bolognese for Richard, (normal sized portions for Ela’s) a shared green salad, two rolls, a bottle of water and a litre of white wine, half of which was on the house, cost us just €17.90 (around £13.00).  Most but not all of the wine was quaffed before we strolled home past the beach with a calm sea gently lapping its edge under the bright light of the full moon shimmering across its surface.  We were at peace with the world and, despite everything, our lot.  We have a lifestyle many would envy and in that, we know just how lucky we are. 

Off to bed we went, fully contented with sleep following almost instantly only to be awoken at around 02.00 by the sound of a steadily rising wind screaming through the rigging and CGIV lurching as she tugged hard at her moorings.  The wind was on the beam and the awning thus acting as a sail and pushing her to leeward.  Within minutes it was blowing a good 30 knots, F7, a near gale and whilst we were trying to fully wake up it rose further to a full gale F8, blowing a steady 35 knots.  The new awning was adding to CGIV’s heel and with its flapping it was likely to tear loose from its ties.  The thought of trying to tame 24m² of cloth in a full gale was not enthralling.  In fact we could not see how we could do it safely.  By 03.00 the wind was gusting to over 40 knots (50mph) and with the threat of the added windage possibly pulling CGIV from her moorings, we had to tackle it.  After some careful planning, we did; releasing the leeward ties first and rolling the awning over the boom thereby reducing the chance of a severe gust getting behind it and turning it into a parachute that could have catapulted one or both of us off the yacht.  The daunting task was safely completed with our usual calm teamwork and we again retired to bed wondering whether this latest gale would pass through before the BBQ was due to be lit at 08.00. 

We need not have worried, the marina crowd are a hardy lot and despite the fact that half of them, including us, had been up half the night and the gale was still blowing, the spits were turning by 08.20.  The local job centre advertised “Spit turners required.  Must be able to drink beer whilst turning.  Shifts last fifteen minutes.”   Implied but not included was “if you don’t turn the spit, you don’t get any meat”.  Really it was just part of the party, most people mucking in to make it work and responding to the main organiser’s, Robin & Pauline and Tony & Tessa’s, directions (see photos).  The beer drinking, for some, started at 08.00 and carried on right through the day until dark at around 19.00; a few heavy hangovers aimlessly wandered the marina the next day; we were not among them. 

It was a brilliantly organised event albeit there was enough meat left over to start a take-away curry shop but nobody complained about that!  The Marina provided numerous bottles of a local desert wine (see photo) made in a monastery and we in Devon know all about what monastic alcohol production can be like; this offering was no different, great flavour and with a 15% alcohol content, very effective.  Everyone attending produces an additional dish of some description; coleslaw, potato salad, roast vegetables, rice what’s-it, etc. Or a pud such as Charlie’s cold mulled poached pears that went down a treat, chocolate mousse and various cakey type puds (see photos).  Attached are a selection of photos taken by Peter & Henri (because we stupidly decided to leave our cameras at home) for which we gratefully thank them. 

After most of the food had been consumed the party games started.  First a yacht race, well there would be wouldn’t there?  Beautifully made flat plank yachts, with sails, to be drawn along the ground by a length of string attached to a piece of pipe held behind your back upon which you had to roll up the string to bring the yacht home to the winning line.  Several teams of three competed in threes until a winning team emerged and were serenaded by Queen’s “We are the champions” to riotous applause from the gathering (see photos).  Other games followed including the archetypal male macho game where you try to position one block of wood as far away from the foot line as you can and get back behind the line on another block without falling over. 

Much to her and our mutual surprise, Charlie lasted until 16.00 and had a great time.  Naturally a lot of the folk at the BBQ either did not know or had not seen us in the past week, so the conversation tended to revolve around how she was and what comes next.  Everyone was very kind and caring.  It is nice to see just how positive and supportive folk can be when faced with such a situation; it helps our morale much more than they could imagine. 

Entering into the general spirit of Spring and its incumbent air of excitable expectation, we decided to re-rig CGIV even though it was unlikely we would be venturing out for a sail, let alone covering any vast distances over open sea before our return to the UK on the 14th of April.  There is something not quite right about living on board a yacht that is still packed up for its winter rest; ropes all stowed away, boom dropped and tied down on the deck, sails packed away under our bed, as well as exposed nicely polished stainless steel equipment like winches and electrical gadgets neatly wrapped up in protective covers.  And to top it all, both steering wheels stowed below with the flag pole and ensign. 

First out was the flag pole and ensign at the stern followed, because it is bad form not to, by the Greek courtesy flag raised to the starboard side first cross-tree.  Over the next few days, all equipment covers were removed and the running rigging re-assembled, always a task for Richard, trying to remember which block went where and which way round the various pulleys to numerous control lines went before snaking their way back into the cockpit. 

Whilst the weather was a pleasant clement temperature and there was no rain at all, the wind was continuously too strong to contemplate getting the sails out for a soak in napisan before hoisting and furling.  To soak them we needed the dinghy out, inflated and full of water and that we finally achieved on the Monday after the BBQ.  The Genoa was then duly dunked.  And there it sat, deeply embarrassed at being treated to a nappy solution soak despite our attempts to gently explain, “it’s for your own good, to get rid of some of that nasty and unattractive red-rain stain that blows across from the North African coast”. 

The wind certainly seemed to be setting a new standard.  In the first twelve days there was never more than a few hours when it was not blowing F5 and above, generally but not exclusively from the south and thus full of red desert dust that coats everything above decks with a greasy feeling grit, and that includes humans too!  Nonetheless, we would rather be here under largely clear, sun filled, blue skies, unlike the cold and snow back home around Easter. 

One morning the wind did drop to a light breeze conveniently on the nose.  Out came the mainsail bag and up she went to about the first cross-tree before the wind perversely swung round on to the stern making it nigh on impossible to get it any further up or down for that matter.  A ten minute job took an hour as we winched it up a bit further in waited for lulls.  The Genoa was out of the question but later in the day the wind swung back round again so we hurriedly got that up as well.  So, ten days after our arrival, CGIV was once again ready for sea and Richard was aching for a sail; to again feel the thrill of being propelled along just by the power of the wind and as the hissing sea slips easily past the hull, the breeze gently ruffling his hair. 

However, a quick look at the Met Office’s weather-on-line made it quite clear it would be at least another week before the weather would be calm enough for us to venture out for a romantic night at anchor under, what will be by then, a moonless but star-studded sky to await and watch the sun rise over the mountains in the morning.  Perhaps we shall during the first few days of April.  We shall see and the next E From Aboard will tell you! 

 

E From Aboard 2008/4

As most will know, the looming date for Charlie’s operation in mid-April unsettled us both sufficiently for us to bring our flight home forward one week, all achieved with consummate ease from the comfort of the chart table, wifi internet access and Easyjet’s website. 

A successful outcome from the operation was not expected; after all, this was the third time cancer had attacked Charlie and this time it was a rare and even more virulent cancer with a reputation for an early and terminal result; and it was diagnosed as being in its final stages.  We both thought ‘this is it’.  Thanks to two very determined and skilled consultants Charlie’s treatment and operation were successful and she has since been declared free of any malignant cells albeit at the cost of various pretty vital bits and pieces in her chest.  But the human body being as wonderful as it is, hers will compensate for the losses over the coming year or so.  Meanwhile she struggles to come to terms with a heart rate that is twice the norm through the loss of two major veins and the use of her right lung, getting extremely breathless following the slightest exertion through the loss of the use of her lung and the removal of its upper regions, and recovery from what was a major surgical event in anybody’s view taking much longer than any of her previous recoveries.  But that is Charlie, always keen to get on with life and make light of her battles. 

Enough of that! 

The weather at home has been absolutely wonderful, allowing, for the first time in five years, almost continuous enjoyment of our wonderful little garden in springtime (see photos).  A trip to the local furniture store for a further kitchen table chair saw our return with a new, all singing and dancing, BBQ to add to the enjoyment of the patio. 

Admittedly, retail therapy has, throughout the winter, been a crutch to assist us both.  The study has been totally refurbished, the landing turned into a sun lounge with the acquisition of two very comfortable leather reclining armchairs and attendant furniture (see photo), redecoration of the whole house internally and the construction of a proper log store just in case this summer is as wet as last summer.

The BBQ purchase was pretty typical; we also went to a local garden centre to buy half-a-dozen plastic wine glasses for the boat and came back with a patio heater!  Ah well.  Add to that the washing machine dying seven days before we depart and having to be replaced (with a Miele of course), generates a belief that, not only are we relieving our suffering but individually easing the suffering of the retail trade as a whole. 

May the 28th will see us back on board CGIV and looking for an early departure towards our beloved Ionian.  We are particularly looking forward to reaching Kioni on Ithaca to check on our dear old friend Costas.  He has had a tough winter following the discovery of an aortic aneurism whilst staying with his daughter in Athens.  Greece being what it is, the emergency operation needed to address his life threatening condition was delayed three times over a period of four weeks; not for NHS type reasons but because of nurses and doctors going on strike.  Can you believe it? 

Fortunately the operation was successful as was an additional less urgent operation but Costas is no spring chicken (not that he will tell us his age and we cannot even guess at it) so is struggling to get back into is normal summer routine.  “It takes me 20 minutes to walk to the bar and take my morning coffee and I’m exhausted when I get there” he tells us.  He would normally walk it in five minutes.  But his spirit is still high. 

Costas provides showers for yachties in his lovely old house, Hamilton House, which is named after Lady Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress and he, allegedly, had the house built for her when the fleet were based in Ithaca.   Anyway Costas charges €5.00 each for a shower that is cold after the first half-a-dozen or so.  If anyone moans he retorts with “why you want hot shower?  The weather is hot, you need cold water to cool off!”  And his comment to Charlie on the same phone call as his admission of extreme weakness was, “I have had four or five in for showers today, ha ha, I’ve got them coming”.  He is a great and very popular character and nobody minds the slightly extravagant contribution to his retirement income.  We cannot wait to see him again (see photo). 

We hope to leave Aghios Nikolaos within a day or two of our arrival and slowly work our way along the north coast of Crete to Khania from where we will be looking for an appropriate wind to spring north to Kithera.  Rod & Pat Day are going to join us on the 4th of June for the trip up to the Ionian and Rod who kindly puts these, our E’s, up on the web, is bringing his laptop along so we can still stay in touch. 

Hence in a couple of days we will be off to Gatwick courtesy of First Great Western and a first class breakfast with the forecast for Crete looking pretty good at the moment for a departure from Aghios Nikolaos over the following weekend. 

 

E From Aboard 2008/5

It was nearly midnight when we boarded Charlie Girl IV, excited but tired after a relatively easy and uneventful journey except that is for Gatwick Airport.  Our cross-country train from Reading to Gatwick (itself a new experience as we normally continue with First Great Western on their airport link service via Redhill) ran via London Kensington Olympia and East Croydon to Gatwick arriving about twenty minutes late.  No problem there as we had bags of time for check-in and a bite of lunch before having to board our flight. 

Check-in was swift and smooth so we sauntered off to departures and the rigours of all the security checks that, in March, well outside the height of the season, was an absolute time consuming bore.  Surprisingly we were through in less than five minutes and hunting down a restaurant facility that would serve us a healthy salad.  Five menus were examined, most offered mainly fast food and chips; only one offered salads and at prices Rick Stein would be pleased to charge.  Then the fire alarm sounded followed by “The fire alarm has been activated (yes, we can hear it thank you), please leave the building by the emergency exits”.  A quick look at the time as we wended our way down twelve flights of metal fire escape stairs indicated they had an hour and a half to sort out the problem before our flight was due to board. 

By the time Charlie had negotiated the stairs and the quarter mile walk to the designated assembly point, she was exhausted and quite incapable of contemplating a return via the same route.  Fortunately the delay out in the dank, drizzly and chilly assembly area was brief and, having asked, we were soon back in the departure area courtesy of two elevators and again seeking out a salad lunch.  Before we could even reach the restaurant area the fire alarm went off again followed by “The fire alarm has been activated (yes, we can still hear it thank you), please leave the building by the emergency exits”.  Variety being the spice of life, we found an alternative emergency exit route but still ended up at the same assembly point.  Now we were getting more concerned about delays to our flight.  But it was not to be as almost as soon as we reached the assembly area, they let us back into the building. 

The search for lunch resumed only to be told “no one will be serving food for at least half-an-hour Sir as all the kitchen staff were outside with you”.  A diet of tomato juice and water sufficed for lunch. 

The flight was delayed and so our arrival in Crete was about an hour later than planned.  A swift taxi ride made up for some of that delay at speeds up to 160kph (100mph) on roads with a limit of 90kph but his driving was generally fine. 

The sea was flat calm with no wind whatsoever but as we boarded CGIV we felt that comforting gentle movement that tells you not only that the winds north of Crete are blowing but we are home.  It is strange but CGIV gently rolling and tugging at her moorings is somehow reassuring and comforting.  Richard was particularly pleased about the sensation and his growing excitement at the prospect of setting sail in a few days time; particularly pleased as only a few weeks before his passion had been replaced by almost a loathing at the thought of it.  Conscious thinking had him never wishing to set foot on CGIV ever again.  No logical explanation comes to mind though the cause is obvious.  Thankfully it was temporary. 

Thursday and Friday were happily spent renewing old friendships and provisioning ship ahead of departure; at least renewing old friendships with the very limited number of folk still in the marina or Aghios itself and those in three of our four favourite tavernas. 

The weather or more precisely the wind looked promising for a Saturday departure and for making progress along the north coast of Crete over the following few days.  And so it was we departed at 11.00 on Saturday, stopping for two hours just outside the marina for a diver to scrape our bottom.  It would seem our Coppercoat coating is not all that it should be in that the hull had collected quite a lot of the white squiggly worm type encrustations and small shell barnacles. 

That night was spent anchored off the fortified island of Spinalonga in complete peace and calm; just what the doctor ordered.  We sat silently in the cockpit supping our evening wine and almost feeling the ghosts of those who made the varied history of the area.  Venetian occupiers, Turkish raiders, Cretan war lords, merchant ships aplenty and finally its use as a leper colony of some repute and around which a particularly good fictional story has been written by Victoria Hislop, The Island; all contributed to the almost over-powering feeling of history that pervades the area. 

Sunday saw an early start to motor round Ak Aghios Ioannis renowned as it is for its violent winds and equally threatening seas.  It was flat calm.  The wind did pick up as the day progressed from a light puff to a fairly strong force 5 by the time we reached the island of Dhia, always on the nose and thus we motored; the time is not yet right for energetic sailing exploits. 

The eastern most bay on Dhia’s south coast we have used several times and whilst the island is starkly barren it has a compelling appeal, perhaps because of its wild and desolate appearance and its attraction for bird life.  In fact this time we discovered it is a breeding ground for all types of seagulls, thousands of them, many recently fledged and making so much noise we were almost glad of the coming of darkness when they largely shut up!  Not many of the predatory birds we are used to seeing were spotted this trip. 

Though we were not totally alone, until dusk there were several yachts and motorboats at anchor as well as a little local fishing boat that looked as if it had been freshly painted that morning (see photo).  As daylight faded into night all returned to Heraklion after their Sunday trip out. 

Making your way west along the northern coast of Crete is always a matter of timing and luck, as it is to then leave its north western tip to head north.  The summer prevailing wind has an irritating ability to blow westerly if it blows at all and then often a little too strong for our lazy comfort.  Beating to windward day after day is not our idea of leisurely fun.  And then if it does decide to blow from the east with any strength two of the intermediate stops become uncomfortable or even untenable for a safe overnight stop resulting in very long daily legs.  Largely westerly winds were to prevail all the way from Aghios Nikolaos to Khania. 

On the way we stopped at Rethimnon, firstly to pick up Rod & Pat Day which we did by hiring a car and driving back to Heraklion airport, and secondly because the forecast winds were even less agreeable for continuing on to Khania and then leaving Crete.  The long range forecast obtained in Aghios suggested just one window of easterly winds in a wall of westerlies about ten days from then; still a few days away.  Checks in Rethimnon indicated it may happen on Tuesday. 

Thus, Rod & Pat having joined us on Wednesday night (June 4th), it looked as if we would be waiting a week or more before moving on.  That’s sailing for you. 

Rod & Pat, having never visited Crete before hired a car on the Thursday and visited the historic Minoan site of Knossos and a couple of village locations, one inland and the other Bali, a favourite stopping place of ours where we had taken lunch a few days before.  When on Friday the forecast was still for strong westerlies we all opted for a Superjet trip to Santorini.  All agreed after the event, organised package tours are not really for us.  Joining with seven other coach loads of passengers of various nationalities and listening to less than well-informed guides attempts at humour to ‘earn’ themselves a largely undeserved tip, prattling on about uninteresting or irrelevant facts in generally poor English, and trying to follow them through windy streets packed with hundreds of other similar tourists, is not our idea of a Grand Day Out.  None the less, Richard & Charlie learnt a bit more about a place that they had visited several times before and Rod & Pat were glad to have visited what is one of the modern wonders of this our world (see photos) and which otherwise they may never have seen; it is also only fair to say that at €98 each including all tours and breakfast, it was good value for money. 

An internet check of the weather on Sunday morning confirmed a positive wind outlook for Tuesday; a nice north-easterly F4 for the trip up to Kithera.  Sunday morning had the adrenalin running as we set off in an easy north wind for a beat round the Akrotiri peninsular to Khania.  As we approached the peninsular the wind backed to westerly (on the nose) and increased to F5.  No fun to be had there then.  We aborted and dropped down into the delightful Ormos Milati and anchored off for the night. 

Ormos Milati lies within the prohibited area surrounding NATO’s southern most base and an American harbour associated with the base.  This seems to present few problems as the Greeks have for decades used this picturesque little bay with its silver sand bottom and protective off-lying island as a weekend or holiday spot.  On one occasion we were checked out by a rib from the base but they hardly slowed down once they saw we were a cruising yacht. 

In the gentle calm of the following morning we motored the 17 miles around the peninsula to Khania.  If it were possible to cross the one-mile isthmus between the peninsula and the mainland, the journey would have been just five miles. 

Khania is a lovely spot so long as you don’t have to moor up outside the all-night disco that is irritatingly positioned at the western end of the relatively short visitors’ quay.  Our luck was in; there was spot well down towards the eastern end and, as it happened, the disco didn’t appear to open that night.  The luck continued in firstly finding a laundry open and secondly one prepared to complete our two loads of washing by 20.30 that evening.  Both this and the top-up of the water tanks were pretty essential as it was quite possible neither would be available until we reached the Ionian. 

Khania is an attractive tourist spot and as such has far too many irritating tavernas touting for your business whilst enjoyment of this Venetian harbour and quay is sought.  But one taverna one street back from the front does not tout for your business; it doesn’t need to.  It is a conversion of what used to be the cold plunge pool of a Turkish Baths and as such is full of character.  The meals are a little different and certainly not over-priced; complementary dips when you order and complementary sweets and raki after your main, both add to the value and its interesting atmosphere.

On leaving Khania at 06.00 the next morning anticipation of a great sail ran high but first a bit of motoring was required to clear the affects of the bay within which Khania sits and Crete itself.  After 17 miles we had a breeze of around 12 knots and it was ENE rather than the forecast NE, a real bonus.  The breeze held all day slowly building up to a good F5, gusting F6 (17 – 26 knots).  The close reach produced a steady speed and our overall average for the 64 mile trip was a staggeringly good 7.5 knots, particularly bearing in mind the first 17 miles were at 6 knots under motor.  Rod & Richard were like a couple of school boys who had won a day off and got unlimited free ice cream to boot. 

As Kithera neared the wind became erratic with heavy gusts.  Charlie, not wishing to be left out of the excitement, took the helm back from Tim (the auto pilot, Tim Helman [Henman]?), shouting over the wind to Rod and Richard respectively managing the mainsail and genoa, what wind she had and its constantly changing strength and direction.  It was a spirited last few miles and did wonders for Charlie’s morale if not for her unused muscles that screamed a few complaints over the following few hours. 

Kapsali on Kithera is an attractive little harbour with its tavernas and houses backing its gently curving beach overlooked by the fortified mount on its north-western side (see photos).  Its waters are crystal clear and ideal for swimming either off the beach or from the yacht.  Its people seem particularly friendly and helpful which adds to its attractions. 

The next day was spent in port with Richard doing various jobs including attending to his most un-favourite task, stripping down the malfunctioning saloon loo to change some of the seals and removing some solids that were causing a blockage.  Yuck!  Meanwhile Rod & Pat took a taxi up to the beautiful Chora and the fortified mount.  Richard would have preferred to be with them. 

Kapsali was surprisingly empty of visitors; much less than when visited in May 2007.  Rod & Pat discovered on their excursion to the Chora that this was as a result of the islands 600 passenger ferry having broken down and not having run for 15 days; a disaster for the whole island in the middle of the tourist season.  It also explained the lack of variety on taverna menus; grilled meat (presumably frozen) and salads was about the limit but we were well served on both nights by a charming owner of one taverna on the front. 

Freely available wifi enabled an update on the long-term forecasts obtained on Crete.  This confirmed the need to clear the always challenging Akra Tainaro (otherwise known as Cape Matapan), the western most of the two difficult capes of the Peloponnisos, as soon as possible.  Little wind was forecast for the Thursday and Friday but after that the stronger north-westerlies would return making a rounding more arduous if not impossible. 

The long range forecasts had so far been quite accurate but would that continue?  The actual temperatures we had experienced had been consistently lower than normal since the first couple of days back on Crete; peaking at 25° to 28°C whereas 30°C plus might well have been expected during June. 

The winds have been equally unusual; the Meltemi is yet to blow with any certainty or consistency and even brisk southerlies blowing up through the Aegean instead, giving us the north and west winds we did not want in leaving Crete; apart from just the one day we used that is. 

Will the intrepid sailors four pass Akra Tainaro without incident or trauma?  Perhaps you had better tune in to the next bulletin to find out as we have already done it! 

 

E From Aboard 2008/6

These E’s from Aboard are written for the interest of those who read them as well as satisfying Richard’s unrealised desire to write that surfaced upon his retirement.  They also serve another purpose, a personal purpose for both Richard and Charlie; they are a diary of their thoughts and experiences that otherwise would quite naturally dim in their accuracy over time.  This E is very much of that ilk, the reason for which will become clearer as you read, if you do, this rather longer missive than usual. 

Global Warming?

The temperatures remained cool right through until the 18th of June when they again climbed to 30°C.  Even a taverna owner in Methoni said “this is winter weather, why have you come”  Our response was “this would make a very good English summer; lows of 19° to 20°C at night and a maximum of 26°C during the day.”  Yes, it did have us wearing shorts, tee-shirts and even fleeces whilst sailing during the day but we were not complaining, as we were in 2007, of overbearing heat with no relief even at night-time.  Sailing in swimming costumes and bikinis (the latter for Charlie not Richard) was not for June this year whereas it would be the norm even in April and May; neither was a quick swim followed by a shower off the stern a realistic option; it was too damned cold for that in a steady F4 breeze.  Washing down below became the norm, sometimes with a kettle of hot water to ease the pain, tanked hot water only being available whilst motoring or with shore power connected. 

Meanwhile, back on the Trip – The Good News

A boring 50 mile motoring hike followed the brilliant sail up from Khania to Kithera, lightened only by the passing of the impressive Capo Grosso (so large it is impossible to photograph meaningfully) and the opportunity to anchor in Ormos Diros for the night, itself an unimpressive bay and a rare opportunity in deed as it offers no shelter from any wind with west in it (the prevailing likelihood).  But it did allow Rod & Pat, the following morning, to visit the beautiful underground lake and caves that should, if they are not, be world famous.  (Rod & Pat have provided the attached photos of its interior.) 

After that we motored for a few miles west until a nice WSW’ly breeze sprung up.  Sails were raised and in a pretty calm sea the remaining distance to Finikounda sailed, close-hauled, with just a couple of tacks to clear some shallows and reefs.  Everybody enjoyed that including Charlie who again took the helm for the tacks, boosting her morale no end. 

Just the one night was spent in Finikounda as it appeared a regatta of a dozen, mainly Greek crewed, yachts were racing down from Kalamata for an extended celebratory weekend, the Monday being a religious ‘bank holiday’.  The thought of the consequences of that in a harbour than take around six yachts at best and the fact that Greeks tend to race mob-handed, ten or twelve to a boat, was far from appealing.  Thus the next morning after a leisurely breakfast ashore consisting of a ‘special omelette’ (four eggs, ham, cheese, bacon, peppers, tomato, mushrooms et al) all to bolster Charlie’s recovery of course; Richard really didn’t want one but felt he must so as to encourage Charlie to follow her dietician’s advice, we had another brilliant sail the six miles to Methoni.  It was another beat but again in a flat sea despite the wind gusting up to over twenty knots at times. 

An incidental point on that beat with a twice-reefed main and a full genoa was the improved performance of the rig and thus CGIV herself.  We had been having trouble with windward sailing for most of 2007 and a good part of 2006 but could find no one competent enough to adjust the rig, the rig believed to be the source of the problem.  Eventually Richard, following previously obtained written advice from the UK, diagnosed what he felt needed changing and after much debate persuaded Udo, our Swiss boat builder who cares for our needs in Aghios Nikolaos, to adjust the rig accordingly.  Previously beating in any more than 15 knots of wind was impossible without reefing the genoa down as well as the main and in so doing, CG would just not perform at all well and neither would she point up adequately.  Now we were making over 6.5 knots at around 30° to the apparent wind and CG was comfortable in doing it, amply evidenced by her neutral helm (she would steer herself for minutes at a time). 

There is no option to anchoring off at Methoni (see photos) though that does add to the historical mystique of the place as that is what sailing ships have done here for aeons. 

Rod & Pat were up bright and early the following morning for a trip on foot around the extensive fortified peninsula that once encompassed a whole town and its community.  As a strategic point on the main trading routes through the Mediterranean, it served various masters, Greek, Venetian and Turkish included.  Walking the area and exploring the remnants of the remaining buildings easily has the mind imagining who once lived in and used them, particularly in the half-dark of those with few or no windows.

Two delightful nights were spent in Methoni, passing some of the daytime in the cafe in the square that provides free wifi access as long as you are drinking something; tea, coffee, beer or wine, it matters not, and watching the world go by.  A check on the weather suggested we should move on up to Pilos just eight miles up the coast on Monday (16th June) and then hopefully tackle the last longish leg of fifty miles up to Katacolon the day after, all before the winds again increased from the north.

 

The Trip - The Not So Good News

Charlie struggled a bit with handling the mooring ropes on reaching Pilos; not that any physical effort was involved, just that it made her a bit dizzy.  All thought it was just her pushing herself a bit too hard, as she does.  That evening she found it necessary to stop twice on the walk into town for supper and had a slight tickly cough; the potential significance of that and her sudden loss of appetite over her dinner was similarly dismissed.  By bedtime, she and Richard were becoming concerned and debated whether to continue to Katacolon early the next morning or stop in Pilos and seek medical advice.  It was decided that Katacolon, whilst smaller, held better opportunities for medical assistance with numerous cruise liners calling in and it being closer to the major local centre of Patras or even Athens. 

Clearly something was on her chest impeding her breathing and reducing her capacity to move around close to zero.  At 4am her coughing was so bad it was decided she should start a course of Amoxycilin based antibiotics, a strong antibiotic that should swiftly shift any chest infection that might be lurking in either or both of her lungs.  But despite that, by the time Katacolon was reached, Charlie was seriously ill.  Discussions took place by phone with both her GP and the Specialist Lung Care nurse at the RD&E.  Unsurprisingly they were inconclusive though with two common themes evolving; with Charlie’s recent complex case history and the rarity of the cancer involved, would mean trusting to Greek doctors and/or hospitals where the difficulty in understanding what they may be planning, doing or even saying would be too high for comfort, but, both wanted a doctor to listen to what was happening in her chest.  Going home was clearly the best option but how could that be swiftly achieved? 

Rod & Richard rode off into town (well town is a bit strong for a few houses, a few tavernas and a couple of hotels) looking for wifi access that was eventually found at the Ionian Hotel.  All flight options were explored but the only practical alternative found was a taxi to Athens, Easyjet from there to Gatwick and a train home; a long, arduous and damned expensive option.  A beer was taken and e-mails checked whilst Richard considered the alternatives including pushing on up the fifty miles to Levkas where facilities are well known and the options expand accordingly.  Rightly or wrongly he felt that whilst Charlie’s condition remained poor but stable that might be preferable and place us where English speaking medical assistance could be sought and the flight home options are slightly better.

One of the incoming e-mails was from Barrie Neilson, the owner of Sailing Holidays, asking “just thinking about you guys and wondering how things are going?”  Richard felt obliged to quickly respond and in so doing asked if Barrie had any seats on his flights from Preveza or Corfu in the next week.  It was now Friday and Barrie’s flights are generally on Sundays. 

After a quick board meeting back on board, Richard rushed off to the Port Police to check out whilst Rod & Pat prepared CGIV for a swift departure.  The forecast strengthening northerlies had not materialised and at 12.20 we departed under motor at 7 knots heading for Levkas, probably Barrie’s base at Sivota.  Shortly afterwards Barrie rang telling Richard he had two seats on Sunday’s flight from Preveza to Gatwick but nothing the following week at all.  If you believe in fate, this was fate delivering a very clear message.  Richard asked Barrie to book the seats there and then. 

Fortunately the wind stayed away for most of the journey and we made the 50 miles to Sivota by 19.00.  Charlie was no worse but equally no better despite having slept the best part of the way.  Saturday was spent planning the trip and on Sunday morning we jumped on Sailing Holiday’s Manchester flight coach at 10.00 for a free trip up to Preveza that should place us at the front of the queue for the Gatwick flight.  It did, and we got two seats one row forward from the very back of the aircraft that turned out to be another stroke of luck as there was no one in the back row; we moved giving us three seats and no one in front of us pushing their seats back. 

Charlie was very weak and there was concern about the affect the de-pressurization to 7,000 feet would have on her breathing.  Richard was confident that oxygen is readily available on all flights and we would leave that to chance as to ask in advance may result in them denying us the option to fly without a doctor’s letter.  The concern was unjustified, the flight taking off on time and arriving in Gatwick three hours later with Charlie just physically tired but having no additional difficulty with her breathing. 

Unfortunately the railway system in the UK is a nightmare on a Sunday and the regular route home via Redhill and Guilford to Reading was closed.  A train to Victoria, tube or taxi to Paddington and the Intercity from there was the only option.  On reaching Victoria Charlie was able to walk the short distance to the underground and, Richard bought two tickets knowing the walking involved if the Circle line was used would be minimal,.  On reaching the platform, an announcement informed, “Passengers are reminded there are no Circle line trains in either direction today”.  How can you be ‘reminded’ of something you could not have known?  “Ah well, a minor complication” thinks Richard, “we’ll take the Richmond train (just pulling into this platform) to Earl’s Court, cross over platforms and take an Edgware Road train back round to Paddington”.  Use of two lifts at Earl’s Court eased that part only to be told by a further announcement there of “Passengers are reminded there are no Edgware Road trains today”.  Enough is enough, the station was left and a taxi sought; no mean feat as it turned out as there were dozens of people caught in the same trap.  Perhaps Boris can do better with London Transport communications? 

Paddington was reached with twenty minutes to spare, our train boarded and our pre-booked First Class seats taken for an on-time departure.  Charlie slept most of the way whilst Richard mused over the diverted route the train took via Chippenham and how much that would delay arrival in Newton Abbot.  Surprisingly it didn’t and the train pulled in precisely on time where Andrew Cooper was kindly waiting to take us to his nearby home for the night.  The trip had been long, fourteen hours, but largely uneventful and at less added stress to Charlie than had been thought likely. 

Monday morning the GP was phoned, a 10.50 appointment met and an immediate referral to the Emergency Medical Unit at the RD&E executed.  They were as efficient as always and by 17.00 Charlie had had all the initial tests one might expect, been x-rayed, had 2lts (yes TWO litres) of fluid extracted from the pleural cavity around her inoperative lung, had further x-rays to establish if the lung had naturally re-inflated, been seen by a doctor, registrar and senior consultant, advised of the alternative prognoses and discharged at her request; breathless to read, breathless to experience, yes, but so comforting and encouraging. 

The still vivid memories of a similar day last November when the thymic cancer was diagnosed had both Richard and Charlie’s adrenalin levels up and the thought of staying in whilst the results of the tests on the extracted fluid were awaited, was wholly untenable.  Professor Anthony Nicholls, the consultant, quite understood that and was happy to discharge Charlie, albeit temporarily. 

Finding out that the fluid was not in the lung as was thought and that the cough and cold that Charlie now had were more likely to have been coincidental to her condition, came as a bit of a surprise but did explain why the powerful antibiotics had not improved her condition one jot.  It also explained why the inhaler she tried equally had brought no perceivable benefit.  Now all that was to be done was wait for the various tests results to come in over the following two days and the multi-discipline team of consultants to discuss her case the following morning (Tuesday).  To say “all” is perhaps a bit tame.  The tests were to discover whether the fluid was a result of an infection within her chest cavity, a fairly common after-affect of the extensive surgery Charlie had undergone in April or something more sinister.  It was going to be a long two days. 

The brain always wishes to solve the problem for itself and not wait for the professionals to do their good works.  Such thoughts ran along the lines of, “if an infection it would be treated, if an after-affect perhaps nothing need be done or a relatively minor procedure undertaken by the surgeon, Richard Beresford, to ‘stick’ her lung to the ribcage so it cannot re-occur, if something more sinister then what happens next is unthinkable at present.  One cannot know anymore than the consultant can, but an after-affect seems the most likely and logical cause”.  Such were Richard and Charlie’s thoughts and hopes but their morale was low and other outcomes seeped into the conscious mind no matter how hard they were resisted.  A restless and unsatisfying night’s sleep followed. 

Tuesday morning was bright and sunny, an archetypal English summer’s morn, not reflected in Richard and Charlie’s moods.   Then the phone rang.  It was Sandra Collinson.  “Just thought you would like to know what has been going on in the background since you left the hospital last night?  We have no results yet but the consultant team met this morning and Richard Beresford (Surgeon) has decided to act now and has booked Charlie in for an operation tomorrow morning.  Can you be here by 0800?” 

Mixed feelings of relief and trepidation flowed like water as the various procedures that may be involved were thought through during the day.  A further visit to Charlie’s GP in the morning imparted additional information as well as additional prescriptions required to deal with less important infections that had attacked Charlie in the meantime, after which lunch at the Riverside Tearooms seemed appropriate but was perhaps a mistake; Charlie was too distressed to see any possible positive outcomes from the following day’s surgery. 

An equally poor night’s sleep followed with Charlie aggressively coughing her heart out with little or no perceived benefit.  Arrival at the hospital was on time but as expected with a relatively minor procedure, Charlie was fourth on the list and unlikely to see the theatre before early afternoon.  At 1.30pm she walked across to the theatre with the theatre sister, kissed Richard a tearful farewell and was swallowed up by the automatic doors to the theatre suite.  Richard carried on to the Oasis restaurant for a belated breakfast or lunch or both, after which he walked into the centre of Exeter to buy some trousers from M&S.  That used up a couple of hours before he returned to Charlie’s ward to await her return for a further two hours. 

The registrar, Raj, who had carried out the procedures for Richard Beresford, popped in just before 6pm to tell Richard how things had gone and what they had done.  “It went well.  We drew off another 3lts of fluid.  The lung would not naturally inflate so we pumped it up and it is now fully inflated.  We have stuck the lung to its surroundings.  There is a bit that hasn’t adhered so we have the operation drain under suction to hopefully adjust that.  There is a 5-6% chance the lung won’t stay stuck but we will know within the next 48 hours or so.  We have not put in a (semi-permanent) drain as that would have to stay there for three months or so.  We have taken a few more biopsies, they look perfectly normal but of course we shall have await the results in 7-10 days to be sure of that”. 

Richard’s relief was palpable.  He couldn’t wait for Charlie to return and tell her that she was not going to have a semi-permanent drain hanging out of her back for months.   Half-an-hour or so later, she was brought back, dopey and floating 100mm off the bed on morphine but smiling at the sight of her man loyally awaiting her return.  After all the gadgets, oxygen, nebuliser, morphine and vital signs, were re-connected and he had checked she was properly conscious, Richard imparted the good news.  Charlie’s relief was equally palpable and she slipped back into sleep still smiling. 

After a few minutes Richard left Charlie to sleep and recover whilst he went home to grab celebratory glass of wine and phone immediate family and friends with an update.  Morale improved and a better night’s sleep was had by both.

As this is published, that is where we are.  Charlie is expected to remain in hospital until Monday the 30th.  There is an appointment with the consultant oncologist next Thursday, the 3rd of July, for her to review matters from her view point and to impart the results of the various tests on the extracted fluid and biopsies.  That should be a formality but Richard and Charlie are quite naturally nervous.  Given the news is good then a return to CGIV is likely within a week or so thereafter. 

 

E From Aboard 2008/7

Our return to see the Consultant Oncologist eventually took place on Monday 7th July at 13.30 and the news was the worst possible; the cancer had returned with a vengeance: Charlie’s time was up.  There is no realistic chance of beating this one other than a miracle and it would be unwise and unhelpful to live with that as an expectation; whilst clutching at straws you miss the opportunity to live. 

It was decided that two-and-a-half weeks alone on Charlie Girl IV drifting around our favourite haunts for Charlie to say goodbye to some very dear friends and then taking our Girl back to her 'home' on Crete would do a lot for our morale.  After all, whilst the news was devastating it is also an opportunity (not a threat) and one that most people don't get in their lives; the opportunity to say to each other how they really feel, not that we hadn’t done that throughout our time together, and ensure that they complete everything they wish to complete in their lives before being parted.  And that does not mean giving up, just hedging your bets and by so doing perhaps exceeding by far the dismal prognosis delivered on that awful Monday.  We hope that will mean a good few more trips back to the boat and elsewhere of course before the end comes. 

Thus we returned to CGIV on Friday the 11th of July, still in deep shock.  It was a shorter journey than usual as a flight from Exeter on First Choice was found, taking off at 13.10 and arriving in Corfu at 18.25.  Having no hold baggage, we were on board by just after seven.  Rod and Pat had looked after CGIV brilliantly, keeping us informed of their progress on a daily basis and clearly having spent a lot of time keeping her ship shape in Bristol fashion.  This even extended to e-mailing Charlie a photo of her babies in fine form (see photo). 

Emotions were complex; thrilled at being back out in the Med but confused about how we both felt about Charlie’s position.  In some respects the uncertainty of the timescale was the most difficult aspect to deal with.  Without treatment or if the chemotherapy failed, a matter of a couple of months; with treatment perhaps eighteen months with the possibility of longer if we got really lucky; the consultant really could not say.  It would be unwise to plan for the longest period but naturally Charlie would fight for it to be so.  We had to act as if there were just a few weeks to go whilst working and hoping it would be much much longer. 

A subdued supper in Argo’s, one of the marina restaurants at Gouvia did little to settle the confused emotions.  This was intended to be a trip of goodbyes and it started with the selected meals.  Charlie ordered her favourite at Argo’s, Vegetarian Dream, mixed roast vegetables topped with Feta cheese; Richard chose his favourite and one they do very well, Spaghetti Carbonara.  Expectations for the next two and a half weeks were discussed and tinged with an understandable sadness.  “Would this be the last time such a meal was enjoyed here together?” 

That theme pervaded the next few days as we made our way first to Lakka on Paxos, then Porto Spiglia on Meganissi and after that Kioni on Ithaca, our absolute favourite of places.  Saying goodbye was proving to be more difficult and less beneficial than expected; it was lowering our morale, not raising it.  But after an enforced two day stay in Kioni due to bad weather, the next few days proved to be very different. 

The 72 mile trip from there to Trizonia in the Gulf or Corinth was a brilliant sail, mainly with a following wind of 15 to 20 knots.  It took us just eleven hours and felt more like eleven minutes as the sail was so fantastic and absorbing.  First the rearward glances at the mountainous terrain of the receding Ionian isles, then rounding Oxia, a tall, lonely and uninhabited isle marking the northern side of the entrance to the Gulf of Patras followed immediately by the low lying plains around Mesalongi (a haunt of Byron’s and where he died) that extend as shallows many miles out into the gulf and then looking out for the new dramatic bridge over the gulf at the Rion narrows (see photo), itself marking the entrance to the Gulf of Corinth and after passing under the bridge, seeking out the small island of Trizonia that blends in so well to the nearby northern coastline of the gulf; it is hard to recognise at all until you are almost on it. 

The square in Trizonia proved to be a surprise as we had always considered the place to be a bit of nothing, just somewhere to break the journey through the Korinthiakos Kolpos (Gulf of Cornith).  It was very nicely laid out with new outside taverna constructions, full of character with the locals equally enjoying the new facilities and clearly welcoming towards visitors such as ourselves whilst continuing on with their daily routine as no doubt they have for generations.  We had a most pleasant meal of fresh salmon, red snapper, xhorta and patates (chips to you and me but made on the spot, not bought in from McCains) before returning to CGIV who we had laid alongside with the wind blowing off the quay, to find her being blown on to the quay with quite a chop developing as a result of a perverse 180° wind swing.  After an hour of graunching we slipped the moorings and anchored out in the bay for a more peaceful night. 

Much direct talking was done about what comes next and in the future.  Optimistically plans for the next few months were mentally put in place; first three weeks back at home organising a cruise around the Norwegian Fjords, then a trip to Ganga’s (Charlie’s middle sister’s childhood name) new house in southern France perhaps preceded by a trip to Alderney, and then a weekend at Rick Stein’s at Padstow and perhaps some time back on CGIV before finalising the family Christmas previously agreed upon; all this to be slotted in between the planned further sessions of chemotherapy; all dependent upon the side-effects being not too severe.

After Trizonia it was a relatively short twenty mile trip round to Galaxidhi and whilst most enjoyable, somewhat of an anti-climax after the previous day’s fantastic sail; with little more than a two knot breeze blowing we had to motor the whole way.  

Galaxidi has been much improved since our last visit in 2006; new cast stone facing to the harbour walls and paving to the quayside; the removal of some obstructing boulders that made mooring up nigh on impossible and the installation of new bollards and mooring rings as well as power and water towers.  It also appeared as if they had dredged some further depth along the quay.  And there had been further development around the duck house (see photos) though we did not witness the use of their newly acquired ferry for their food deliveries. 

Another brilliant supper was had on a protruding mole that had been converted into a fairly swish taverna overlooking the bay and harbour.  We had always avoided it on past visits presuming it would have prices to match its swish appearance and location; we were wrong.  A meal of fresh sardines to die for (a Charlie statement made whilst munching them that we laughed heartily over) accompanied by maruli salata and patates plus water and wine of course, for just €27.50.  The previous night’s meal in Trizonia had cost €54.50 and we thought that quite reasonable for such good fish. 

By now, we were beginning to come to terms with being parted. 

Charlie was feeling on particularly good form and wanted to go for pre and post-dinner drinks; not that she was drinking you understand, the aversion to alcohol probably as a result of her morphine intake saw to that.  At the former we picked up a free wifi service to look at, amongst other things, details of the P&O Cruise we hoped to take on the 23rd of August.  Unfortunately it came up as “Sold Out”.  That would be a great shame if so as an old friend who now works high up in P&O had recommended it to us and was helping with the arrangements.  When we first got together back in 1975 he was first officer on Canberra, then P&O’s flag ship.  We shall have to wait a while to see if his adding our names to a waiting list for the cruise bears fruit. 

The post-dinner drinks were taken in the same kafenia after dark, watching the mainly Greek visitors and residents alike promenading past or sitting alongside us whilst, as Greeks do, putting the world to rights through loud debate and argument.  Charlie’s desire for alcohol being much diminished, her drink was freddoccino, a cooling mix of crushed ice, ice cream and coffee, whilst Richard partook of what Charlie would normally drink and he would not, a Metaxa.  And boy, what a Metaxa, at least five UK measures and that to be consumed on top of half a litre of white wine he had imbibed over dinner.  It was typical of how measures used to be in Greece but over the past few years had been slowly becoming less common as the prices needed to rise or the measures drop; here the price was up a little at €5.00 but the generous measure unchanged. 

Bed was not reached until half past midnight, a good three hours after Charlie’s recently more regular bedtime and despite a good three hours sleep that afternoon, she was to pay for her night out the following morning; not with a hangover as precious little alcohol had been imbibed but just because she is so weak and thus easily tired. 

Regrettably it was to be another day of no wind and we needed to push on whilst we could; just two and a half weeks to reach Aghios Nikolaos on Crete was not long if the weather broke.  The intention was to head for the Corinth Canal and stop short for the night perhaps anchoring off Loutraki, a spot we had visited in 1975 on our first cruise together on Canberra a ship of some fame due to its role in the Falklands war but long since having endured the ignominious end of having been beached in Bangladesh and broken up for scrap. 

On arrival at Loutraki we were less than enamoured with its changed vista and decided to head through the canal there and then if possible.  The last gaggle of cargo ships, yachts and power boats had been seen going through at 1645 which could mean a lengthy wait.  It wasn’t too bad though and 1845 saw us out the other end, our wallet €213.01 the lighter for the canal dues.  It is said the Cornith Canal is the most expensive canal in the world on a per mile basis but to be fair it is a wondrous example of man’s ingenuity, cut as it is through solid if soft rock and before the days of the mechanical plant available for such mammoth projects these days (see photo).  And that is part of the cost.  The canal is shut every Tuesday for dredging and repair or maintenance to the ever crumbling walls; not a job to be fancied at all. 

An overnight stop in Korfos (see photo and spot the shower!), a slightly sleepy cowboy sort of a town, was improved by the chats we had with a very nice family from somewhere in Cambridgeshire before we trundled off at a leisurely pace to Poros.  Vane hopes of a sail were dashed by the light airs and as we altered course time and time again making our way through the channels between the off-lining islands and the mainland, they stubbornly stayed right on the nose until dropping off to nothing at all as we approached the quay in Poros.  Our arrival was early enough for us to moor-up in our favourite spot at the quieter end of town and opposite an internet cafe with air-conditioning and boy did we need it with the temperature at around 33°C and no breeze at all. 

Dinner was another dream.  Back to a taverna tucked away in the back streets and run by a local butcher whose shop is just twenty strides up the road from the tree-lined cobbled area that forms his taverna.  He specialises in various forms of roast pork though cooks chicken and other meats as well.  Charlie tucked into the most enormous portion of spit-roasted chicken whilst Richard tackled an equally large portion of spit-roasted ‘baby pig’ (that being how it is described on the menu) that was so succulent you wonder how on earth they achieve it and with crackling to die for (there it is again!).  Last time we ate there in 2006, Richard broke a tooth on the crackling, not so this time. 

A slight misunderstanding on what Charlie wanted when ordering, “only a few small chips please”, was interpreted as extra chips.  Three portions were thus delivered to go with our meats’, xhorta and maruli salata, themselves starter sized portions.  Richard felt obliged to attempt the lot in case the taverna owner was offended at the food left, or so he weakly claimed.   Despite his and Charlie’s best efforts, there were chips left behind.  Again we were surprised at the cheapness.  Whilst tourist prices generally seem to reflect Greek inflation plus a bit, these largely Greek supported establishments manage to keep their prices down.  The whole meal cost us just €27.00.  Match that in the UK if you can. 

Weather forecasts from the UK’s www.weatheronline.co.uk and Greece’s www.poseidon.ncmr.gr gave similar indications of what to expect on the sail from Poros to Serifos; NW’ly F4 veering steadily as we crossed in to the Aegean proper to N’ly F5-6.  For a few days thereafter the forecast was similar but without the ‘6’.  As the course was approximately 115° for all but the last seven miles or so, that seemed fine and we gambled that the F6 would not present too much of a problem being largely behind the mast. 

0645 Saw us quietly easing out from the surrounding powerboats and heading off round Poros town and through the narrow shallows between it and the mainland; a passage than can be quite exciting if you meet a hydrofoil or larger ferry coming the other way: fortunately we didn’t.  Soon all sails were up and we were coasting along at a steady 6.5knts. The wind stayed fairly constant for the first thirty miles at 20-25knts and then, just as we started to cross the main shipping lane to and from Athens and had two huge tankers approaching our starboard beam, it turned fickle, dropping to just 8knts and veering to the North.  Both ships passed us safely, one less than a quarter of a mile to stern, the other a mile across our bows. 

The rest of the journey became a bit of a nightmare, first 8knts of wind requiring lots of belly in the sails then 25knts requiring none at all and even a reef in the main.  Just four miles off the south western tip of Serifos it all became unmanageable as the wind rose to between 30 and 40knts and the seas rose to between two and three metres, both now being right on the beam as the wind had gone NNE.   Sails were put away, the main very badly causing our first ever jam as we were to discover later, and the rest of the journey motored in pretty uncomfortable and wet conditions. 

Anchoring off in Serifos is always to be favoured, not only because of the hassle caused by inexperienced charter yachts mooring on the limited quay but also as the wind nearly always blows a constant F4-5 (11-21knts) and very often a lot more.  It was the latter that evening and night as it blew F6-7 almost without a break causing several of the yachts on the quay to leave and anchor off.  Whilst it is starkly barren it is somehow still a beautiful place with its freshly painted white cubic shaped, typically Cycladian houses arcing round the bay and petering out into a stubby tree-lined beach and  a separate chain of houses winding up the side of the pinnacle-shaped mount to surround its top (see photo).  It has a charm that wipes out any concerns one might have about anchoring in such conditions. 

Pumping up the dinghy and motoring ashore for dinner did not seem too appealing with the chop the wind was producing so Richard rustled up a pasta dish of Porcini mushrooms, onions, cubed courgette and garlic in a white wine and cream sauce.  Yum yum was the general view on consumption.  A very peaceful night’s sleep followed despite the raging wind.

The wind abated slightly over night and we awoke to 20knts of wind and pretty full batteries; Casper (the wind generator) has been working hard all night, in fact so hard that when the wind got up again at about 10am, he was regulated out, the batteries could take no more.  This was much the typical Cycladian weather to be expected and why we have generally spent July and August there as the constant blows keep the temperature down.  Though it was not so last year (2007) when we gave up and went home for two weeks holiday as it got so hot and windless. 

For no reason in particular Monday the 21st of July was to prove an emotional day.  The wind in the bay remained stubbornly high but was reckoned to be largely katabatic so the anchor was lifted, three-quarters of the genoa set and we shot out of the bay at 8.5knts.  Brilliant.  As expected the wind was less once clear of Serifos and as we were heading broadly south, pretty well on our port quarter (behind us).  After an hour we settled down to a steady 5knts under a fully-set genoa, the music went on and the video camera came out.  It was Cecelia Bartolli singing extracts from various operas.  That and Richard filming the scenic surroundings of Sifnos where we were headed, Serifos receding behind us and Polyargos and Kimolos showing as black mystical shadows on the horizon before us started it off.  As Richard panned from side to side absorbing those views and the still high running deep blue sea with occasional breaking white tops racing past, the lens settled on Charlie staring thoughtfully ahead.  “I will treasure this bit of video when she has gone.  This might be the last time I can film her enjoying a good sail.”  That and a particularly sad aria did it; tears flooded down his face as the aria reached its climax and as it ended Charlie turned to see him shaking with emotion.  The filming stopped and a few tearful minutes were shared over the unfairness of it all. 

Grieving is necessary and helpful and we count ourselves lucky in that we can do it together.  We are not being parted without warning as are many.  It also highlights just how lucky we have been and still are.  Just how many people in similar circumstances and there many thousands every year, can enjoy such pleasures as we are in this two-and-a-half weeks.  Doing what we love most, sailing in warmer climes, visiting strangely varied and beautiful places, cooking different dishes and generally eating different foods.  And meeting all nationalities and mostly people who are here to enjoy life, not complain about it and in an environment, the Greek way of life, that reflects that thinking.  How can we possibly be sad for long?  We weren’t and were soon laughing and joking about funeral arrangements and how Charlie’s life may be celebrated.  “There are to be no black suits, dresses or ties.  They’re to be banned” She insisted.  Richard mentally wrote the eulogy, thinking of starting with a section on apologies, “Charlie sends her apologies; she so hates to miss a good party but has been unavoidably detained elsewhere.  She hopes you will all enjoy the day nonetheless for her absence”.  The idea raised another giggle but neither Richard nor Charlie could decide how it might be taken by those present. 

Vathi on Sifnos is an almost totally land-locked bay of some considerable size that offers near perfect shelter in all winds.  Not only that, it is peaceful and quietly picturesque (see photos).  It has a magical charm that seems to grow stronger the longer you stay; you decide on one night and that becomes two, then you decide on two nights and that becomes four.  The beachside tavernas are a great part of this charm; the distance between them and the water being less than a couple of metres so that when there is a swell walking past them is nigh on impossible without getting your feet wet.  Cars and vans are excluded from the beach access (there is no road) after about 0800 and most deliveries including luggage is made by wheel barrow.  The taverna owners are so friendly that after just one visit you feel like a long lost friend when you turn up for a second visit.  Their food is simple but delicious largely traditional Greek dishes with little allowance for touristy desires.  We love it. 

Sadly we left Vathi behind on Wednesday morning, the 23rd of July, for Ios; not the most attractive of destinations when the weather is hot and there is the likelihood of no wind but we needed fuel for the trip down to Crete just in case the forecast was wrong and we were going to have to motor that too.  Though one should always carry enough fuel where practical to cover the journey you intend to make just in case something goes wrong. 

Ios was cooler than expected with a gentle cooling breeze wafting through the quayside moorings.  Re-fuelling was soon completed as was a little provisioning.  After a shower a quiet and enjoyable supper was had in a quayside taverna before an early bed. 

The 24th of July is our wedding anniversary.  On awakening, we opened our anniversary card; yes, ‘card’.  We had one on the boat that seemed appropriate, a scene from the Curse of the Were-rabbit, Wallace and Lady What’s-it taking tea with a caption of “Suited to a Tea”.  Charlie secretly wrote on one blank side and Richard the other, little bit of childish humour that gave us a laugh over our morning tea. 

The day’s sail was to be more than we could have hoped for.  The wind was from the north, force 4-5 and the sea lumpy but interesting.  We had a beautiful sail down toward the magnificent modern wonder of the world, Thira, more commonly but incorrectly known as Santorini, a name derived from the islands occupation by the Venetians who built a catholic church in the Chora and named in Saint Irene from which came Santorini. 

As many will know, it was once an enormous volcanic island, roughly circular and shaped as would be drawn by any child.  Being approximately seven miles across and several hundred metres high and of volcanic origin, it was fertile and thus inhabited.  It was relatively dormant until one day in around 1450BC it erupted cataclysmically, blowing itself apart and lifting millions of tonnes of rock into the atmosphere and leaving behind a 6nm by 4nm hole, over 300 metres deep that filled with sea water.  No one survived.  It is little changed to day other than for its newly formed cone that sits quietly festering in the middle of the caldera and periodically erupting to increase its minimal height above sea level.  Truly it is a modern wonder of the world visited each day by more than ten gigantic cruise liners and thousands of other tourists. 

We have passed through the caldera a few times before but never so easily and well under sail as on our anniversary.  It was a wondrous sail and one that will live on in our memories far better than any of the many pictures and videos we have taken that fail miserably to catch its magnitude and the awesome power of this planet of ours that created it (see photos). 

We had hoped to anchor off the south eastern tip of Thira for the night before leaving the following morning for the last long leg of our journey down to Crete but the swell created by the stormy conditions off the Peloponnisos some hundred miles or so to the west was rolling along the south coast making that an impossibility.  So we used the so called marina we once vowed never to use again after having been charged €20.00 for the night with no proper berth and, as if to example Greece’s unpredictability that we love so much, the very same man on checking our intentions tells us there will be no charge? 

Friday’s sail down was frustrating.  The wind was good enough to sail but at 11-16knts for most of the day insufficient to overcome the affects of the relatively large swell still relentlessly rolling in from the west.  We were making 5knts but CGIV consistently rolled from side to side after the larger waves causing the sails to flap loudly and irritatingly which then caused the speed to drop off.  After several hours of this we decided we would motor after the next hourly position check.  As if he had heard this Aeolus picked the wind up to 16-22knts and off we went.  Instead of the waves producing flap and speed loss, they added to our speed as CGIV was lifted to their crests and surfed off down their sides.  Magic. 

Our target for the night 65nms from Thira was Spinalonga just 9nms from our home base at Aghios Nikolaos and very picturesque spot at that (see photo and E’s From Aboard 2008/5, para 8).  Arrival off the beach we prefer adjacent to one of the posh hotels and opposite Spinalonga itself was achieved at precisely 19.00 and exactly twelve hours after our departure from Thira; an acceptable average speed for the day of 5.42knts. 

Two nights and a very windy day were spent there relaxing and deciding what to take home with us from the boat.   With some reluctance the anchor was pulled up on the Sunday morning and we slowly motored round to Aghios Nikolaos marina with its beautiful mountainous backdrop (see photo) and moored up.  It was a sad moment. 

The rest of Sunday and Monday was spent shutting CGIV down, doing the inevitable laundry, packing our bags and saying hellos and goodbyes to those we knew.  The final evening meal was at Corto Maltese our favourite posh restaurant just outside the marina, overlooking Ammos beach.  The restaurant owner was un-amused about a rock concert taking place there and the row they were making.  We thought it was a hoot.  The backing group were quite good but the singer (shouter actually) should have stuck to his day job. 

Charlie was again on great form and in better shape than she had been for many months and her appetite was enormous.  For the first time in a very long time she ravenously consumed three courses and a lot quicker than Gannet Richard.  It was a lovely meal with the Serbian owner and his Slovenian waiter who seem to like us somewhat, fussing around us and periodically stopping for a brief chat.  We meanwhile were again discussing the future and what it might or might not hold for us and reflecting on the excellence of this trip and how lucky we had been with the choice of route and its winds.  Had we gone via the Pelipponisos we would not have made it as gale after gale had rushed down from the Adriatic and that would have kept us holed up for a week or more. 

Wildlife is always in our minds and on this trip perhaps more than usual.  We were lucky enough to have many sightings of Bottle Nosed Dolphins, some chasing around CGIV as they love to do.  No whales were seen but we did see and confirm a very unusual sight, a flock of Flamingos flying at sea level in the Saronic.  Besides that it was more of the usual companions on the sailing legs, Shearwaters.  What graceful birds they are with their long wings and incredible ability to use the waves to power their flight, not the flapping of their wings; Swifts, Martins and Swallows of course but in lesser numbers than we are used to and one Hoopoe and a flock of Eleanor’s Falcons in Galaxhidi. 

The trip home on Tuesday the 29th of July was lengthy and in part stressful.  The taxi to Heraklion airport was on time and gentle, not always the case with Greek taxi drivers, as was the Aegean Airlines flight to Athens.  Unfortunately the Easyjet flight was scheduled as being fifty minutes late and that cut our safety margin for catching our train at Gatwick to almost zero.  In the end we arrived at Gatwick an hour and a half late and then suffered an inordinate delay at passport control before collecting our bags.  Why do Government departments insist BAA provide 20 desks for peak periods and then man just 8 of them? 

The train became a pain as we had pre-booked seats and trains and the tickets were not transferable, hence we should pay again but if we had tried to do that at Gatwick we would have missed the next train so boarded anyway.  The train manager on the Gatwick/Reading train assured his train was not a problem but the intercity from Reading to Newton Abbot would be.  Then the train was delayed and pulled in to Reading at exactly the time our intercity train was to depart; we caught it though but with no seat reservations and Charlie by then beside herself with exhaustion, Richard was in fear of standing the whole way.   It was not to be so.  He told Charlie to look for reserved seats showing Paddington to anywhere and sit on them as that would mean the passengers had not turned up.  She did and found two whilst he had a word with the restaurant car manager to arrange a table for dinner in First Class.  It is not a well known fact but you can do this on a standard class ticket at no extra cost.  He in turn had a word with the train manager who waived his right to charge us for the journey again, a saving to us of around £150.00. 

It was delightful last leg spent in comfy seats polishing off a bottle of white wine and a couple of sirloin steaks whilst watching the beautifully green English countryside speeding by.  Before we knew it we were rolling slowly into Newton Abbot station, tired but after the last leg, relaxed. 

Andrew Cooper kindly picked us up from the station and took us to Church Farm where he had been caring for Tommy our BMW Mini Cooper.*** *** *** ***

So now we are at home.  Charlie’s visit to the Consultant Oncologist, Liz Toy, was very positive.  The x-rays showed no deterioration in her condition, neither did the physical examination.  In fact Liz appeared a little surprised at just how good she appeared.  The chemo session followed without incident and we returned home feeling pretty good about things.  Unfortunately overnight Charlie’s face swelled up, her upper torso became very inflamed and she had an almost unbearable headache.  So in the morning we returned to the hospital where she was swiftly admitted for the day.  Liz’ registrar treated her and kept an eye on her all day, discharging her with a selection of additional drugs and instructions on who to contact over the weekend if needs be and who to phone on Monday morning if all was well.  Again the RD&E comes up trumps; it is so reassuring. 

We and they are still concerned at the cause so the following two days chemo drugs were cancelled and treatment continues to cover most potential causes.  It is probably nothing more than an allergic reaction to the poisons used but after the last few months, who knows.  No doubt we are going to have many up and downs like this from now on. 

We remain upbeat and positive.  There is life to be lived yet and we intend to live it to the full.  We don’t know what that will include but by golly we are going to cram as much in as the time will allow. 

Will there be further E’s From Aboard?  We hope so.  We may return to CGIV in October and if the chemo pushes Charlie in to remission, we may even get out as usual in 2009.  As you read this perhaps you can have a little wish or prayer according to your beliefs that is will be so.  Then you can look forward to even more of this rambling drivel! 

 

E From Aboard 2008/8

We are back on stream and as you read this, back on Charlie Girl IV for a boat fix, a sun fix and with a little bit of luck, perhaps a sailing fix.  So let’s start with the good news! Charlie’s current round of chemotherapy that started in early July has been successful in halting the progress of the cancer; thus the six planned sessions will continue and be completed in October.  It is then hoped there will be a break of a few months before palliative treatment will need to resume though this is unlikely to be further chemotherapy.  We say good news because Charlie is standing up to the treatment surprisingly and exceptionally well, it is not really impeding her in any way and whilst the prognosis is unaltered, every month that passes without deterioration is an unexpected bonus. 

Travel had been banned temporarily as some of Charlie’s side effects, whilst not troubling her, were unexplained and thus troubled her consultant.  But in early September the consultant’s blessing was renewed albeit with a nervous chuckle and “Just where are you planning to go now and what are you going to be doing?”  She is not used to terminal patients being quite so flippant about the risks attached to travelling.  Yes, fluid has to be drained off every other day and injections given on a daily basis but Richard copes with all that and the necessity of hold baggage on aircraft being purely to accommodate all the medical equipment that requires. 

The trip to France had been given the OK but what then?  There were still two sessions of chemo to go so our thoughts moved towards filling the three-week gaps with travel.  We researched a week in the Lake District but were shocked to find out that would cost between £1,200.00 and £1,500.00.  That sort of expenditure for so little value could not be justified, after all, it may well rain for the whole week!  Richard then priced a trip out to the yacht for two weeks after the 2nd of October chemo session; the cheapest route cost £870.00.  He then priced a trip out at the end of October; that worked out at £470.00.  Both were booked! 

So, off to French France we went to visit Charlie’s middle sister in her villa near Madiran. 

The drive up to Bristol Airport to catch our first ever Ryan Air flight to Pau in France took longer than expected even though the traffic was light.  The long term car park was not over full and we parked with ease just behind the courtesy bus stop. Within a few minutes of arrival we were in the terminal building and at the end of the fast moving queue for security clearance, a process that went without hitch despite the large quantity of fluids, controlled drugs and medical equipment filling one of our two cabin bags.  After just enough time for a glass of wine the flight departed smack on time, arriving half-an-hour early in Pau and with clearance of entry formalities being equally swift we were soon standing in the airport’s foyer awaiting Alex’s arrival, blinking from the ease of it all.  If only all journeys could be so easy. 

Being a dark moonless night, the drive back to Alex’s villa told us little about the area other than it was probably uninhabited; no cars or people whatsoever were seen once the outskirts of Pau were left behind. 

The next morning upon drawing the bedroom curtains and seeing the early morning sun streaming across the gently undulating mist covered, tree-lined, extended, shallow valley between the villa and the almost invisible vague shape of the Pyrenees in the wispy clouds beyond, we gained some idea of the beauty of its locality (see photo).  And it was so quiet, even the proverbial pin dropping would have seemed like a thunder clap.  The valley is relatively flat and the vista very much that of the imagined archetypal English farmland.  Only the obviously French architecture of the sparsely spread farmhouses told us we were in southern France not southern England.  A fact gently reinforced by the occasional baying of the neighbouring farmer’s hunting hounds ever hopeful of their dawn breakfast to come.  Alex had said that when she first saw the villa she thought she had died and gone to heaven; an understandable reaction and apt description of it and its surrounding countryside. 

Our six day stay rushed by at jet like speed with a constant stream of enjoyable activity organised in advance of our arrival by Alex.  Five kilometre early morning walks passing the time of day with many of the French locals and other expat residents alike, breakfasts each day on the small south facing terrace (see photo), an evening barbeque and several lunches  taken under the white sail awning spread conveniently adjacent to the front, (French of course) doors; and trips out to shop or eat in the nearby charming French villages, reached by traversing long stretches of straight, presumably ancient Roman, roads where the passing of an occasional other vehicle only just dispelled the feeling of this being a totally uninhabited area.  It was total bliss and did much to lift our previously ebbing morale. 

Perhaps the zenith was the trip to Eugénie les Bains, unkindly but correctly translated by Richard as ‘Eugenie’s baths’.  It is a small and now famous spa town, beautifully laid out with natural and artificial water features, renovated old buildings interspersed with those newly built but so cleverly and caringly designed as to make it almost impossible to distinguish between them and those that are evidently medieval; all positioned as if planted by an overseeing giant architect between and under a myriad of tall shading broad leaf trees through which neat gravel paths guide you from one building to another, each with their own selection of appropriate sculptures, old and modern, and a gentle spread of subsidiary planting.  It is not until you study the entrances to the buildings that you become aware that they are hotels and restaurants, within one of which we were to eat being Michel Guérard’s La Ferme aux Grives (farmhouse of thrushes), a restaurant serving cuisine de terroir (regional scoff).  The building itself is an indistinguishable blend of old and new construction (see photo).  Originally it was perhaps a barn, later an hotel and now a classy but not overly expensive restaurant.  Evidently the whole area was originally owned by Michel Guérard’s then wife-to-be’s family and now by them both with its added fame and wealth having derived from his reputation as a world renowned chef. 

The food served there is quite exquisite, beautifully prepared and presented, light in texture and with sauces that delight rather than overpower with their content of cream or butter, reportedly a forté of his.  Even the slowly turning suckling pig cooking over the fire within the enormous baronial fireplace turns with the use of the original medieval manual device now cleverly turned by a well-hidden electric motor rather than its original rope, weight and pulley system. 

Richard studied the beams supporting the balcony above their heads, trying to decide which were original and which had been added to the original structure as demanded by the local building inspectorate to aid compliance with modern day and largely unnecessary engineering calculations.  “Why is it necessary to add additional support for light tables and human loads to a building that has supported tonnes of farm produce for centuries without collapsing” he thought.  The meal and ambience was so good, it was not until the following day Richard realised he had been overcharged by twenty Euros on the bill; the set meal was €46.00 per person and was charged at €158.0, not €138.00.  It mattered not; we had a wonderful evening. 

Sunday brought on the traditional British (and French) desire to go out for a long Sunday Lunch.  A fairly lengthy drive through the rolling farm filled countryside in the continuing sunny weather took us to Bassouses, a sleepy but beautiful ancient fortified town where, for once, the remaining fortified tower, probably the keep, is larger and more elaborate than the church.  The mildly coloured houses with their roman or pan-tile roofs forming the long straight main street has at its midpoint what can only be described as a similarly roofed train shed (no walls) constructed of huge rough hewn timbers brought together with equally huge mortice and tenon joints plugged with hardwood pins that are left protruding as if to amplify the lack of nails, screws or any other such modern fixing method.  The trees from which it was constructed must have been cut many hundreds of years ago and probably seasoned for decades before being reduced and used in construction.  As with many such structures, including houses, old joints from a previous use are left exposed as if in evidence of a profligate society that had little and wasted nothing. 

The shed was of course not for trains but for the village market to be held under cover, protecting stall holders and customers alike from the harsh winter elements or the summer sun, suggesting this had not always been a poor farming community if it could afford such a magnificent and relatively expensive structure. 

Along one side of this beautiful example of French village history a restaurant sits, almost unnoticed as its facade is no different from the surrounding houses. Probably it original use was in feeding the market attendees and local work people and that has moved on now to feeding tourists, locals and expats alike.  It is laid out along the cobbled pathway shaded by the buildings and the market shed from the worst of the sun and providing much needed succour for upwards of two hundred diners of which more than half were British, most of whom appeared to live nearby or had sneaked across the border from Spain though a pass in the nearby Pyrenees. 

The lunch was simple country fare; a large bowl of soup from which you helped yourself several times without seeming to reduce its contents whatsoever.  It was clear and very tasty with a myriad of translucent beads of neither Alex, Charlie or Richard knew what.  It tasted like barley but had no core to its seed-like appearance.  Naturally the soup was served with a basket of White French bread chunks.  This was followed by an assiette of smoked meat with an accompaniment of cous cous that presumably also popped over the border from Spain where it had previously arrived courtesy of the invading Moors.  Then came the main course, a choice of lamb shank, rare fillet of beef or a chicken quarter accompanied by roast potato cubes and a paltry amount of white string beans (the French are definitely carnivores’ and scorn the eating of vegetables).  A carafe of red wine is included with the meal though we added to this a bottle of white as is our wont.  After the main course a choice of fruit or a selection of ice-creams was on offer from which we all selected an ice-cream.  All this eagerly consumed for the princely sum of €33.00 (plus €12.00 for the white wine); €11.00 per person for a sumptuous peasant meal consumed in idyllic surroundings on a day of perfect weather.  The drive back to the villa for the requisite zizz was achieved, just, without sleep occurring before we got there. 

Monday found us consuming an even larger lunch in a more modern restaurant frequented almost entirely by working Frenchmen taking a lunch break from their daily toils.  One wonders how anyone can work after consuming such an enormous meal including a pichet (carafe) of local red wine.  A similar huge tureen of soup, this time thick with fresh vegetables, preceded a beautifully prepared and presented crêpes de sep (mushroom omelette) stuffed full of lightly cooked fresh wild mushrooms; Charlie was in heaven but even with three of us trying, we felt unable to finish it.  An assiette of French fries ( a pet hate of Richard’s) arrived next topped by three, what appeared to be bread-crumbed deep fried, duck legs; all was readily consumed and followed by platter of local cheeses: goat, sheep and cow based accompanied by a traditionally French lettuce only dressed salad.  Again, apart from the soup, not a vegetable was to be seen.  The red wine was very local, very acceptable and readily quaffed, its final dregs whilst pondering on how all this could be provided for a mere €17.00 each. 

Drinks on the patio that evening with Ross and Anita, Alex’s caretakers whilst the villa was let and now her supplier of handyman help, saw a change in the breeze from east to west, heralding the collapse of the high pressure that provided us with such good weather and foretelling of a low pressure to come.  Tuesday morning’s trip to Toulouse for our flight home was cloudy but otherwise uneventful.  Alex’s taxi extraordinaire that had served us so well all week, dropped us at the airport and then continued on to shop at IKEA for a few more bits and bobs for the villa.  We, meanwhile, partook of a simple but more expensive one-course lunch in the airport’s brasserie before boarding our flight for Bristol. 

On approaching Bristol we knew we were home.  Low and thick cloud totally obscured the ground until we were almost down and when were down we disembarked into a howling gale and driving rain.  Richard carried both bags down the aircraft steps concerned all the time about his hat blowing off whilst Charlie slipped dangerously in her stylish but inappropriate flip-flops despite hanging on to the handrail, saved only by the kind lady behind her who quickly steadied her.  The drive home was abysmal. 

Wednesday, blood tests, Thursday consultant appointment and chemo, Friday a day of recovery for Charlie and packing for Richard in advance of Saturday’s trip out to our beloved CGIV. 

So here we are in Aghios Nikolaos.  What comes next depends on the wind, the weather and whether?  Whether we sit lazily on the marina each day or energetically go for a sail or two; we shall see and so might you if you read the next instalment.

 

E From Aboard 2008/9

So, here we are after a week back on our Girl, reflecting on life and what we have been up to over the past week and what has been happening in the world at large, itself perhaps a once in a century event and one that is hopefully not as bad as the panic suggests it might be. 

Our journey out last week could not have been more straightforward; John the Taxi to Newton Abbot station at 07.45, the 08.26 First Great Western HST to Reading, their slower train direct to Gatwick, Easyjet’s 14.40 flight to Athens, Aegean Airlines 22.20 flight to Herakleon and a local taxi from there to the boat.  All ran on time or little early and all without incident.  In fact the only thing worthy of note was the taxi driver who was keen to talk and tell us how bad the season had been in Crete, how expensive it was to run his cab now with oil the price it is and the authorities refusing to increase their allowable fares.  We have some sympathy with them here, less than fifty cents a kilometre or sixty Euros for over two hours work does not seem a lot particularly when that has been the rate since 2004 at least.  Richard, perhaps a little foolishly, gave him €70 which surprised the taxi driver but for which he was clearly most grateful and wished us all the best as he left us at 00.15 local time, 22.30 UK time.  It had been a long but satisfying day. 

Sunday was spent recovering from the previous day’s journeying and catching up with a little bit of Aghios life.  After eventually rising we took a gentle walk up through the town  noting on the way just how quiet it seemed with little evidence of the usual tourist bustle one would expect to see, and parked ourselves in a bar overlooking the old harbour and supped a couple of Freddochinos whilst reflecting on the lack of bustle and what the taxi driver had said the night before “There are plenty of people here but they spend no money.  They have a deal with a hotel for flights, all meals and entertainment. They spend nothing outside.  They don’t go outside.  This is not good.”  The bar we were sitting in was fairly busy but almost totally with local Greeks; perhaps he was right? 

The usual Sunday BBQ was running but we had no food in having arrived so late on Saturday night and most food shops don’t open on Sundays and we didn’t quite feel up to socialising yet anyway, so we sauntered back to the marina area and dropped into to Sirrocco (see photo), our favourite place for lunch where we can watch the happenings in the marina and have the view of the sea and mountains beyond.

Nicos and Mariná greeted us, particularly Charlie, like long lost family; service to other customers stopped whilst they caught up with what had happened since we saw them last in late July.  They also confirmed the season had been quiet though the previous week had been extremely busy and exciting with a flotilla of single-handed racing yachts having used Aghios Nikolaos as a stopping point and having been stranded for three days longer than intended by bad weather.  They had all taken up residence at Sirrocco and had attempted to drink them dry! 

After our afternoon zizz, a welcome and refreshing shower followed by a couple of glasses of wine on deck and watching the sun slowly disappear behind the mountains, we wandered over to Ela’s for supper. It is conveniently situated backing on to the pretty sandy beach that is just outside of the marina (see photo).  Again, whilst the weather is clement, it is an idyllic spot to take supper particularly if the wind has been blowing all day as it generally calms in the evening leaving a gentle swell that produces a constant flow of childlike waves breaking on the sandy shore.  Behind that, the moon produces a beautiful shimmering light across the bay drawing the eye to the dark night-time outline of the distant mountains.  It is a wonderfully relaxing and romantic scenario and good for the soul. 

As if that is not enough, the owner, Apostolis is a sweetie and has completely forgotten how to be serious.  His English is very good and humour very British.  Ordering your supper is never quick or easy as he always wants to joke with you.   His faire is simple but excellent and the portion sizes ludicrously large.  His speciality is pizzas in which he does a roaring take-away and delivery trade but we never eat pizzas there.  Normally Richard has his spaghetti bolognaise and Charlie his seafood pasta dish, both with maruli salata (lettuce salad).  You need no more; we even decline the customary bread offering but not the carafe of wine. 

Monday was a more business-like day with vitalling to be done and urgent jobs on the boat attended to.  The Bimini stitching has reached the end of its natural life; the power of the Mediterranean sun soon reduces cotton stitching to dust.  Richard spent most of the day replacing that with twine thread to see us through ‘til the winter when Udo can take it away, replace all the stitching and the plastic zips that have suffered a similar fate. 

With a benign weather forecast for the next three days or so, we let go the lines on Tuesday and had a brilliant sail up to Spinalonga, first in little or no wind coming in almost nor-nor-easterly and pushing us on a necessary port tack further out into Kolpos Merambellou.  After two tacks putting back on port our course gradually came round from 090° to 010° and the wind strengthened to a healthy 15 knots but with still little swell. We sailed up to a point more or less due east of Ak Ay Ioannis before tacking onto starboard and sailing down towards Spinanlonga.  That extra two miles north of where you would expect to tack was soon used up in the five mile approach.  The wind variation in the lee of the headland is notoriously fickle and can produce the most frightening of katabatic gusts but not so today; fluky wind changes yes, but no katabatic gusts saw us clearing the point of Spinalonga with about fifty metres to spare.  A gentle run down to our favourite anchorage completed the 17.5 nm sail in perfect conditions and our anchor dropped without the need for the engine. 

Charlie rustled up Tagliatelle amatricana which was greedily consumed on deck under a starry sky faded slightly by the shining half-moon but with not a breath of wind to bring any chill down from the nearby headland.  We were in heaven and very relaxed.

We just love being at anchor in the peace and quiet of an uninhabited anchorage such as that.  Tuesday night was just perfect and when we awoke in the morning, the chart plotter (left on for its anchor alarm facility) informed us we had moved precisely 3.5 metres during the night; even in flat calm we would normally expect half-a-mile or so.  Early morning tea was taken on deck as the sun peeked its head over the surrounding hilltops of Kher Spinalongas (the four mile long peninsula that forms Ormas Spinalonga. 

Insert two sailing photos here? 

By midday we had soaked up enough of the peace and tranquillity to fancy another sail.  Richard persuaded Charlie that a trip to Sitia, 20nms to the east, would give them another good sail though he thought we should get out of there early the following morning to avoid the forecast rising winds of Thursday afternoon.  So that is what was done.  The wind varied between 6 and 12 knots, not quite enough to make a downwind sail exciting but very acceptable nonetheless.  The disappointment was finding the quay at Sitia still covered in concrete dust but fortunately the breeze that night was gentle and on to the quay thus diverting the dust clouds thrown up by the occasional car traversing the quay for we know not why, over the breakwater wall and away from CGIV. 

Sitia was very quiet.  The numerous bars and tavernas spread along its pretty Palm-lined harbour side (see photo extracted from E!! 2007) were largely empty, not exactly inviting so we chose a bar full of local youngsters, fairly loud pop music and four large video screens showing appropriate action videos.  Regrettably not a choice you would make with comfort in the UK but no problem at all in Greece.  Two soft drinks were ordered as we sat back and watched some amazing footage of young lads on motorbikes executing what can only be described as gymnastics; racing up a steep ramp, their bikes performing various somersaults whilst they similarly executed impossible moves on and off the bike in mid-air before getting back in the saddle and landing the bike on a downward ramp.  Thankfully few were seen to crash or incur any serious injury if they did. 

We then wandered along to Zorbas and, yes, it’s the corniest of names for a Greek taverna but that is the owner/chef’s name.  If you ever get the chance to visit, it is a must!  A set menu for two of Greek salad, tatziki, lamb-in-the-oven with potatoes, semolina cake, a glass of wine and a glass of raki, all for €18.50 (£9.25 each).  One might of expected miniscule portions but the opposite was the case, so much so, we could not finish it all.  Perhaps more important, it was very tasty indeed. 

With strengthening winds forecast for later on Thursday, we slipped our lines at 08.00 the next morning and beetled off out to see if we could get round the corner and back into Kolpos Merambellou before it came in.  We failed.  It was blowing a good four from the north west as we rounded Ak Vamvakia, right on the nose and with a good swell to go with it.  We motored for ten miles or so before heading down towards Aghios Nikolaos at which point all sails were raised and another lovely sail enjoyed, albeit only for seven or eight miles at which point the wind died leaving us becalmed four miles short of the marina.  We were not unhappy about that as mooring up in the marina in even moderate winds is far from easy; as it was we poodled in, dropped into our berth without hassle and were soon celebrating our early return as within the hour the wind rose from a vesper to a six plus! 

As the weekend approached excitement increased at the prospect of returning travellers, the first expected being Robin (Reliant Robin) & Pauline on Flapjack.  They were returning early after an unfortunate and painful accident for Pauline resulting in a dislocated shoulder whilst in Turkish waters.  Peter from Kritsa, a larger than life character who spent seventeen years of his working life flying helicopters to the oil rigs out of Aberdeen, the longest serving time of any pilot on this most dangerous of jobs, flew out to join Flapjack and assist Robin in bringing her and Pauline safely ‘home’. 

We joined an excellent BBQ on Sunday, just before which Robin phoned to advice us he was about four hours out in 4-5metre seas and 20-30 knots of wind on the beam having the best sail of the season with all his canvas up.  Flapjack is a 55’, 28 tonne, Robert’s design steel yacht that Robin built himself and quite capable of handling such conditions.  But Robin’s concern was how it was in the marina.  Richard was able to tell him it was, surprisingly, flat calm with little or no wind so mooring up would be easy enough. 

By the time they approached at 17.30 everyone at the BBQ was in the usual alcohol induced merry mood and lined up on the pontoon with air horns blasting to welcome them back.  Half-an-hour later, once their mooring up was completed, those that could get on board, piled on to CGIV for an impromptu party and of course, that started the usual exchange of summer sailing stories, all of them horrific of course, that ran on for a couple of hours until Robin decided they must go and eat.  We retired to an early bed, exhausted but happy after such a good day. 

We were going for another sail but Robin needed to collect his scooter from Roger & Birgitta’s villa and as Pauline cannot drive with her shoulder as it is, Richard was the selected candidate.  It was to prove a fun day out but not quite the day that was planned. 

Robin’s idea was to head up in to the mountains on the way to Kavousi and have lunch in another remote village, the name of which has been completely forgotten.  It must be the wine.  R & B’s jeep was used once we had covered the seats in towels as it is absolutely filthy inside, an inevitable result of being used mainly to trek up and down the stony tracks from their villa to the main road some two kilometres away.  Of course Richard and Charlie were perfectly dressed for the trip in white shirts and, in Charlie’s case white trousers.  Ah well. 

The village was lovely (see photo) but unfortunately the taverna was not open so it was back in the jeep and off to Maria’s in Kavousi for lunch.  We say lunch but actually all we ordered was a beer and a litre of local wine, the liver casserole, cheese pies, sausage rolls, spinach pies and a few other bits and bobs appeared as if by magic from time to time for us to nibble on.  You don’t need to order food with that lot!  It is the custom to provide such food (mezze) with drinks, though it is increasingly less common. 

Then it was off to the villa to collect the scooter and water a few of R & B’s plants.  The latter was soon accomplished, the former not so.  The scooter would not start.  Evetually Robin did get it going despite the flat battery which he had anticipated and brought jump leads along for but had forgotten that the scooter only has a 6 volt battery; connect that the a car battery and its bye bye electrics. 

After the two kilometre bumping along the long track in, it was decided to try the shorter if much steeper way out.  Robin set off whilst Richard followed in the jeep with Charlie and Pauline on board.  On reaching the bottom of the villa’s drive, Robin was seen trying to restart the scooter.   To save a long story, it would not provide enough power to go uphill at all; downhill was the only option.  But then even the slightest incline stopped him dead.  We were never going to get back to the marina and now it was raining. 

Richard returned to the villa and ‘borrowed’ R & B’s trailer, hooked it up and returned the one kilometre back to Robin and the scooter.  Charlie by now had had enough of being bounced around in the back of the jeep and had quite a headache; what should have been around two and half kilometres of rumpy bumpy finally totalled nearer six! 

But no matter, the scooter was ignominiously returned to the marina in the trailer and was soon fixed by Robin, albeit on the following day. 

The rest of the week was calm and quiet by comparison whilst the weather continued to be bright, sunny, warm and relatively windless apart from one or two heavy showers.  But out here they don’t last long and within minutes the ground is again dry and life back to normal. 

All too soon it was Friday and we were packing up to return home.  Tony of Little Round Top kindly volunteered to drive us to the airport in, as per the usual arrangement, a car hired by the beneficiaries, us.  The driver then gets the benefit of the use of the car for the rest of the day to shop or sight-see or whatever they fancy.  It is a good arrangement. 

The journey home was smooth and uneventful with all planes, trains and taxis on time or early.  On arriving at the front door of The Old Stables we realised the true difference in temperatures and regretted having turned down the Aga and central heating; the house was freezing but soon warmed up once the fire was lit, the Aga turned up and the central heating given a blast. 

This week is chemo week and anticipating all will be well we are booked to fly back out to the boat next Sunday for another dose of sun and sea.  

 

E From Aboard 2008/10

A season’s end can be a sad time; sails being removed, running rigging stowed and boats lifted out of the water for storage ashore for the winter with their owners then not to be seen for six months or more.  But in Aghios Nikolaos it rarely feels so as the home-comers drift in from their summer’s cruising to be joined periodically by newcomers to the marina thereby swelling the ever growing winter community who live the whole winter through on their boats.  Yes, there are many who, like us, go home to be with their families and other friends for the majority of the winter but even we feel the air of excitement about new friends to be quickly made before departing for colder climes with the expectant anticipation of continuing these newly made friendships in just four months time.  It is perhaps the sense of community that seems to pervade the atmosphere here that has somehow been largely lost back home. 

It has definitely been so this year and perhaps even more so for us.  Most, if not all, of the home-comers already know of Charlie’s predicament and Richard’s impending loss and have quickly appraised any newcomers of the situation, particularly those on pontoon B where Charlie Girl IV resides when in the water.  Thus we feel compelled to start this E from Aboard with a huge ‘thank you’ to all of them for the unobtrusive and caring support they have all shown us in so many different ways.  We have both felt as if there has been a cocoon of soft and warm cotton wool around us wherever we have been and in whatever we have been doing.  It has been a great comfort.  Most will have been unaware of just how much help it has been in keeping our morale high and our enjoyment of the season’s end almost equal to that of a Spring awakening.  This is particularly so against a background of not knowing whether we will see that awakening in 2009; though we have booked the flights in anticipation of returning on Tuesday the 3rd of March, so mark it in your diaries! 

So, to all of you in Aghios Nikolaos marina and you will know who you are, we thank you for your support, kindness and consideration from the bottom of our hearts. 

*******

Sitting on deck taking morning or afternoon tea or a lunchtime glass of wine sometimes brings with it some less expected pleasures than those imparted by the constant flow of folk back and forth along the pontoon and their cheery greetings or short conversations about presidential elections, bank rate cuts or the price of fish in the market today.  One of those involved a visitor who pays nothing for his fish as he catches his own, right at the back of our yacht (photos of Kingfisher with captions if poss).  It is surprising just how tolerant of humans they can be.  Just before this photo was taken he was sitting on our boarding plank, no more than 3 metres away from us.  It was lovely to watch him staring down into the water then swiftly diving down to catch a small fish before returning to his mooring rope perch to hungrily consume it.  It may seem a trifle to some but to us it brings huge pleasure and welling up in the heart of simple warm emotion towards one of the simplest but most colourful creatures on this our planet. 

And what have we been doing for this past fortnight?  Much the same as we did over the previous fortnight including a most enjoyable trip up to Spinalonga that turned out to be our last sail for this year.  The weather was just perfect; light variable winds that enabled a slow and comfortable sail north from the marina to the a point north east of Spinalonga island itself and then south west to pass round its northern point and sail gently south to our favourite anchorage just a mile or so into the lagoon.  Two nights were spent there and awakening on the first morning to a flat calm sea, a gentle warmth and no sound other than the occasional chatter of birdlife on the nearby shoreline, we tried to capture the feeling in the photograph; it attempts to ‘reflect’ that atmosphere, if you will excuse the absolutely awful pun (Photo of Aloundha).  As the sun slowly rose and life coursed again in the surrounding hamlets, the last of the year’s tripper boats passed slowly by one of the fast emptying hotel complexes taking the last of the year’s tourists to visit Spinalonga island (see photo of tripper boat). 

The day remained calm and generated in us both a reflective mood, a mood that lead us to cast our minds back over our life together, what we had achieved and where we had been.  There was some sadness knowing our remaining time together was limited but great joy over the fun we have had, the experiences we have enjoyed and in particular, the decision we took to retire early, buy CGIV and sail the Med for as long as fate would allow.  Of course we would like more time but we have had five glorious years travelling some fifteen thousand miles mainly in short twenty mile hops, visiting some really exciting places and having more pleasure in those five years than most folk achieve in a lifetime.  We can’t be too bitter or sad with those joyful memories to draw on, many of which we have captured here in our E’s from Aboard, in our photos, with our video camera and in Richard’s ‘book’ within which he has diarised much of our life together. 

Next morning the calm windless conditions prompted us to explore the rest of the lagoon; an exercise we had been meaning to do for years if only to see what other little bays we could anchor in or whether it would be worth anchoring off Aloundha to go shore and eat in one of its many tavernas.  We found another bay that we shall hope to try out next Spring but decided anchoring off Aloundha would not be worth the effort and probably not very quiet. 

As we motored slowly back to the marina we sighted a giant sunfish but unfortunately it refused to surface when Richard had the camera pointed in the right direction, on the right settings or within range.  It gave us nice little interlude though as it flopped from side to side before again diving for the bottom and, presumably, a bit more breakfast.  As we motored on a large funnel was spotted over the top of the island close to Aghios Nikolaos.  We decided to investigate and went the slightly longer way round the island to see, what we assumed was a cruise liner, too large to moor alongside the quay.  It was Cunard’s new Queen Victoria, not the prettiest of ships they have produced but marginally better than most of the blocks of flats we see cruising the Aegean (see photo). 

On returning to the marina Peter and Chris, our German friends who have converted a tiny local house in Kritsa into an exquisite little home brimming over with the abundance of artistic talent they both possess, responded to our invitation to have dinner aboard with a firm “No, we want to take you to Sissi and buy you dinner”.  We didn’t allow the latter part of their kind offer and shared the cost of dinner at Faros, a taverna in the bay just round the corner from the marina (see photo of BBQ), after a lovely trip out to Sissi which is a quaint little harbour around 20 kms along the coast towards Heraklion (see photo Peter, ducks & boats). 

Over a carafe of Raki and a beer or two, much conversation took place over whether we should try to bring CGIV in to Sissi sometime; the harbour, whilst small, seems deep enough but the entrance is narrow, not straight forward and surrounded with reefs and the sea off the north coast of Crete is rarely calm enough for such entries to be easy.  It was a lovely afternoon and evening, nearly marred but not quite, by Charlie suddenly becoming very tired and needing to return to CGIV for a zizz before tackling dinner. 

The weather was quite remarkable; calm, warm, sunny with little or no wind for practically the whole fortnight, perfect for washing the sails, re-hoisting them to dry and dropping them to be folded neatly before bagging them up for the winter.  Similarly, washing and drying all the ropes was easily achieved as was wrapping up the winches and other equipment to keep out the driven sand that often accompanies the winter storms. 

As we wanted to inspect the hull, suspecting it was carrying an excessive amount of growth and wishing to allow for the possibility of a delay through strong winds that are normally expected around the beginning of November,  CGIV was booked for a lift on the Friday before we were due to return home (see photos).  The hull was bad but not as bad as we expected with 95% of the growth succumbing to the power of the pressure washing before she was unceremoniously crawled along the road to her winter resting place ashore (see photos).   Three nights in a nearby apartment followed as whilst we didn’t mind climbing ladder to get on board during the day, trying it during the night for quick trips to the shower block did not appeal. 

The Sunday BBQs were a dream.  Everybody was in a good mood and ready to party and the numbers were heavily swelled with the influx of so many newcomers we found it impossible to cope with all the new names.  The last BBQ was quite brilliant.  The dishes brought by all for all to share was so varied one might have thought it planned.  It wasn’t.  (see photos)  All went perfectly until we got up to leave as we needed to pack for our journey home the following day.  Everyone who knew us got up in turn to shake hands or give a hug and wish Charlie all the best of luck.  Tears flowed like a mountain spring and emotions ran very high.  We were both completely taken aback by the strength of feeling towards us.  It was very a humbling experience. 

*****

 

So now we are home, Charlie’s treatment is finished, the CT Scans completed for now and a visit to the hospital to hear the results passed.  The evenings are closing in, another week is coming to an end, the weather is showing us its first hint of winter though perhaps not in the West Country and the stock market's had yet another day of steep falls; what better than to catch up with some overdue writing and, hopefully, bring a little ray of sunshine into other peoples’ lives?  And we do have a little ray of sunshine to share. 

Over the past three months we have whizzed over to France to see Charlie's sister Alex's villa where she has decided to live for a year and had two trips out to our yacht for some last minute sailing and to catch up with the summer exploits of our sailing friends before putting our Girl to bed for the winter; all fitted between the last three sessions of Chemotherapy for Charlie.  They went well and a CT scan after the fourth session confirmed the chemo was slowing the cancer down somewhat.  On completion of the sixth session and there will be no more, a further scan was done and yesterday (Thursday the 20th of November) the consultant took great delight in telling us the cancer was still stable and she felt able to leave Charlie alone for a couple of months to see how things go.  For us, that is news as good as it can get short of an absolute miracle!  No one can tell us how long the reprieve will last but if you will excuse yet another reference to weather and the seasons, we don't really care and intend to make hay whilst the sun shines. 

That was not the only good news as her right lung appears to have almost closed the gap between it and her pleura thus denying the cancer the space within which to produce excess fluid.  The low level of drain-off was maintained over the past week and yesterday, Thursday the 27th  of November the drain was removed from her side; not a pleasant procedure for Charlie but it was swiftly and efficiently done by Rakesh, one of her Registrars. 

That is obviously great news for Charlie but will cause a nursing redundancy as Richard will no longer have to carry out his role as District Nurse every other day, a job he has had since early August.  No, he didn't get to wear black stockings and a suspender belt but he did get to think about them.  Finishing with that procedure will be more of a blessing than you might imagine as the paraphernalia required takes up over half a large suitcase every time we go away. 

That means the only procedure left will be the daily injections of heparin that Richard administers to keep Charlie’s blood thin and thereby minimise the risk of a clot that the cancer produces for a pastime ending up in her heart.  We can live with that one even if we do have to explain why we are carrying sharp instruments and controlled drugs every time we try to board an aircraft. 

Thus we are not really seeing the doom and gloom that seems to hang over the world at the moment; we are in sunshine and enjoying the celebration of Richard’s sixty-sixth birthday this week and we mean this week, not just a day during the week.  A couple of friends over for dinner one night, out on the birthday itself with others for a meal out and a weekend with most of the kids and grandchildren organised by the two that live in Torquay.  Richard’s being spoilt to put it mildly, in fact the kids have been absolutely fantastic for the past year in organising such events on a regular basis on any excuse whatsoever. 

After Charlie has completed her cook-in, making Christmas pudding, chutney, soups et al and organising everybody else's Christmas celebrations and Richard’s made our Christmas cards, we will be off to Padstein (for those who might not know, the colloquial name for Padstow resulting from the enormous impact Rick Stein’s restaurants and TV programmes has had on the port) for a weekend of culinary debauchery just before Christmas courtesy of Richard’s ex-boss who insists on spoiling us year in year out.  We are going to treat it as a training session for the expected Christmas excesses. 

When will the next “E” appear.  We don’t know but it might be in the New Year and perhaps after Charlie’s next hospital appointment at the end of January.  In the meantime we are investigating what cheap breaks are around for Malta and/or Cyprus as we have free return tickets on Flybe who fly to both from Exeter.  It will be a way of getting through the worst months of the year (January and February) by finding a little bit of sunshine and warmth.

 

E From Aboard 2008/11

Christmas & the New Year

Shortly after hearing Charlie’s condition was terminal, Richard’s ex-boss Len and his wife Julia asked us to do them a favour as they wished to thank us for being the inspiration they feel our attitude has been for them.  Whilst we found that hard to understand, we just do what we feel is best for us, Len has always been generous and magnanimous in response to Charlie’s various problems over the years, the majority of which occurred whilst Richard worked for Midas; it was a request we could not refuse.  We were to choose something we would otherwise never do, but whilst that opened numerous doors of opportunity, just what were we to suggest?  We have always had a long list of things we wished to do and places we wished to visit as, we think, Len well knew.  It had to be something possible bearing in mind the likelihood of cancellation through further developments in Charlie’s condition and thus better if it were one of the less far flung destinations; we had discovered, nearly too late, that our Norwegian Fjord cruise idea had one stumbling block we had not considered: the cruise companies insist on full insurance and whilst there are companies that provide cover for terminal cases, the cost exceeds £1,500 per week of travel! 

We had twice before tried to fit a trip to Padstow and Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant but for a variety of reasons it had not happened.  We decided that was the one and after checking when a booking was possible it was put to Len & Julia.  It was fine and Len confirmed the booking with Rick Stein’s. 

Friday the 19th to Sunday the 21st of December 2008

Friday dawned fair and after a simple breakfast, we left home at 10.00am for a leisurely drive up through Moretenhampstead to the A30 and along that until diving off to Bodmin then Wadebridge before following the Camel river along to Padstow.  All went well for the first five miles but then a large articulated lorry caused a complete road blockage when it met one coming in the opposite direction.  After a quarter of an hour of shuffling backwards and forwards with the stream of traffic behind both getting ever longer, an about-turn seemed appropriate to find a diversion over the top of the moors to Mortenhampstead.  The rest of the journey was, thankfully, trouble free and past with much quiet contemplation of the expected pleasures to come. 

So what was eaten on stopping at a pub near Bodmin for a slightly less exotic lunch than was anticipated a few miles further down the road?  Ham egg and chips (guess who) and a baked potato with a Stilton filling; they offered a Cheddar filling but Charlie in her inimitable way saw no reason why this could not be substituted for Stilton seeing as that was available elsewhere on the menu.  She was right, of course.

After that very satisfactory repast we drifted on down to The Seafood Restaurant nestling as it does behind the fisherman’s quay and new harbour at Padstow which itself overlooks the Camel estuary and the hamlet of Rock on its eastern shore beyond, its flamboyant houses glistening in the mid-winter sunshine as if to broadcast the exorbitant prices their owners had paid to secure them. 

The room was on the second floor with a pair of windows looking along the road to the inner harbour and an enormous patio sliding door opening out onto a balcony large enough to hold a 50-strong drinks party.  It also has two four-seater bright red weather proof settees strategically placed to face the best of the view down the estuary to the open sea beyond (see down-loaded photo).  But Richard and Charlie’s interest was in the bed and an afternoon zizzy in advance of the culinary delights to come.  After a restful hour they freshened up and slid down the stairs for a pre-dinner drink at the newly constructed bar, set centrally within the restaurant with just a few comfy stools positioned around its polished stone extremities. 

Rich Stein has four eating establishments in Padstow as well as a cookery school, a delicatessen, a gift shop and a couple of hotels and guest houses.  We had decided to try them all starting with The Café on the first night which we did after walking slowly around the inner harbour with its plethora of Christmas lights strategically placed both in and out of the water softly enhancing the natural charm of the place.  The walk was inevitably slow as Charlie’s Achilles tendon is still swollen (a strange consequence and side-effect of the antibiotics prescribed during her chemotherapy).  Whilst it is called The Café it is nearer a Bistro in decor and appearance and perhaps called The Café because within the St. Petroc’s Hotel is a restaurant called, The Bistro.  The Café menu is simple and certainly not as expensive as had been anticipated (see scan). 

What to eat was such a delightful problem that half the bottle of Rick Stein’s Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2006 from Australia was consumed whilst a pleasant hour passed by in considering it.  Charlie finally settled on the salad of Lancashire cheese with pancetta and chilli beetroot whilst Richard, in deference to his Mother’s ancestry, went for the Cullen skink; for those who do not know, that is a creamy soup containing smoked haddock and potato chunks.  Richard was thrilled with his choice but Charlie less so, finding the pancetta a bit greasy for her taste and having a slight aversion to chilli after the affect that her treatment had had on her tolerance of spices.  Nonetheless, the verdict was it was a very promising start. 

For her main Charlie selected the Feta tart with caramelised onions, oven roasted tomatoes and basil which turned out to be an excellent choice.  Richard, having spent most of his culinary life avoiding most of the available fish options was determined not to give in to the temptations of a rare Scottish rib-eye steak and chose the salmon fishcakes with a watercress salad and a caper and lemon dressing.  Both decided to decline side orders.  Both dishes were an absolute delight, being perfectly cooked and with an interesting combination of tastes from their respective ingredients. 

And so to desserts, a course normally avoided.  The desserts of earlier diners were keenly watched as they were whisked past our table and thus pecan and chocolate pie with crème fraîche was decided upon by Charlie whilst Richard tucked into Colston Basset stilton served with walnuts and honey a combination he had never previously tried but that proved to be a particularly exciting combination.  Having polished off the white wine over the main courses, Richard ordered a glass of Graham’s late bottled vintage Port to accompany his cheese.  It was not a good choice; a glass of red wine would have been better as the sweetness of the Port clashed somewhat with the sweetness of the honey rather than complementing the tang of the cheese. 

Coffees were declined in favour of another gentle stroll around the harbour before returning to The Seafood Restaurant and bed. 

The usual Smith’s Saturday morning is ‘Tea and papers in bed’ and we saw no reason for deviation just because we were away in Padstow.  However, it did not last long with the dual distractions of the view across the Camel and thoughts of the breakfast experience awaiting us in the restaurant bringing on the filling off the bath and enough bubbles to hide a naval flotilla. 

Breakfast is nearly always a disappointment in hotels with their almost inane inability to cook eggs of any description correctly.  An early Spring stay in a five star hotel in the Isles of Scilly exampled that where Charlie returned her scrambled eggs twice before giving up and refusing to eat them.  Would Rick Stein’s be any different?  Both ordered Scrambled eggs with Scottish smoked salmon, sliced onions and capers asking for the eggs to be soft.  Whilst waiting to see how that would come, fresh fruit, toast and coffee was enjoyed.  All too soon the eggs arrived; they were absolutely perfect: soft, creamy and just slightly under-done; exactly as wished for.  The smoked salmon, upon which both Richard and Charlie consider themselves amateur connoisseurs, was a perfect complement to the scrambles eggs being firm, not greasy or oily, rich in colour and flavour without being overtly salty.  Over further coffees, toast and marmalade, breakfast was declared a complete success. 

To pass the time until lunch, the other Rick Stein establishments were to be explored.  Along the front and in front of the old London and South Western Railway station that now serves as a local council office, a new and rather unattractive semi-industrial building has been built to house several different commercial outlets, three of which are Rick Stein’s.  First there is the Delicatessen, run by Rick’s son Ed and from where he produces two thousand Christmas puddings in batches of twenty-five, many of which are exported around the world.  Unsurprisingly the deli was much what one would expect, except for wondering how such a relatively large establishment is supported by a relatively small community; presumably the majority of its business flows from tourism.  The shop was full of what has become a custom now with celebrity chefs, a myriad of personalised chutneys, jams, sauces, spices and, in this case, wines all emblazoned with the patron’s name.  It was almost a surprise to find that the fresh vegetables had not grown with his name on their leaves, branches or roots. 

Next door to the deli is Rick Stein’s Fish and Chip Shop; the one eating house we did not try.  Above the two is Rick Stein’s Cookery School where you can spend a thousand or two wrecking perfectly good ingredients and then eating meals prepared by the professionals back at the restaurant, hotel or guest house. 

Rick Stein’s Gift Shop can be found next door to the Café and pretty well contains what one might expect of a seaside tourist town.  And, similarly unsurprisingly, it was full of Rick Stein products including an excellent example of his support for local produce and industry; by the way of example, slate table mats, cheese plates or boards.  Richard was unable to resist a pack of those as Charlie had been so impressed with them the night before at The Café.  And equally being unable to resist a deal, purchased an above table Christmas chandelier (see photo) that had clearly been around for a year or two.  At 70% off he would be able to impress Charlie with just how much money he had saved them (?)  One or two other small Christmas presents for Charlie were swiftly and secretly bought, Richard having told her he was fed up with all this window shopping and would take the chandelier back to the car whilst she continued exploring the nooks and crannies of every shop in the street. 

On the matter of ‘deals’, it was amazing to see that even in Padstow, almost every shop and outlet was advertising massive discounts in an attempt to attract shoppers.  It was clearly a failure as the streets were largely empty as were all the shops except bakeries and the like.  Even Rick Stein’s Patisserie was far from busy when Richard sneaked back in there for a couple more tree presents. 

The weather remained benign being calm, mild and as midday approached the sun burnt through the cloud cover to expose the clear blue sky beyond.  It was a happy day.  All too soon it was time to return to the Seafood Restaurant to meet up with Alan and Sue Sutherland who were driving down from Exmouth to join Richard and Charlie for lunch.  Champagne cocktails seemed the order of the day and were slowly consumed whilst news of recent events in each family’s life was shared and the lunch time menus studied. 

There was a choice of an extensive al a carte menu or a set menu (see scans).  Charlie opted for the former as she wanted lobster whilst Sue, Alan and Richard opted for the set menu.  Charlie selected Stir-fried mussels with black beans, garlic, ginger, coriander and spring onions to be followed by Padstow Lobster – steamed with mayonnaise and salad leaves.  She was to be slightly disappointed in that the mussels were tough and refused without the use of a crowbar to leave their shells whilst the lobster she felt was ‘chewy’.  Nonetheless, the flavours were wonderful. 

Sue and Richard both chose goujons of plaice with tartare sauce, a simple starter that was delightfully prepared and cooked, exceeding the expectations they may have had from its simple background.  Alan chose a turbot dish topped with scallops (a lunch menu was not included in the asked for pack so we could not scan it in) which was beautifully presented and consumed with extreme pleasure.  Charlie eyed his choice with envy, wishing she had chosen the turbot which she never eats rather than the mussels which she has regularly.  Sue followed on with a simply prepared Brill and Alan a similar cod dish, both of which appeared to delight their palates.  Richard meanwhile selected the char-grilled fillet of sea bass with a tomato, butter and vanilla vinaigrette; it was an excellent choice with a wonderful combination of flavours: unfortunately the bass was over-cooked and a bit mushy.  Whilst the menus were as good as expected as were the flavours of the chosen dishes, The Seafood Restaurant was not entirely living up to the promise delivered by The Café the night before or its expected reputation for perfection.  Had Richard and Charlie been alone, three of the five selected dishes may well have been returned. 

Charlie declined a dessert whilst Sue and Alan partook of some Colston Basset stilton and Richard opted for the quince and blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream.  Again, it was good but not as well presented as one would expect with the sauce overheated and stuck irretrievably to the edge of the dish.  But the quality of the ingredients and the resultant flavours were excellent. 

After a relaxing and rather late afternoon zizz, (lunch had lasted for four delightful hours) a bit of television was watched, there being little else to do in Padstow other than shop in the dark.  After that and freshening up for the evening, St. Petroc’s Bistro was approached with a little trepidation after the slightly disappointing lunch time experience.  It was a short stroll but Charlie, with her swollen Achilles tendon, struggled a bit with the steep hill that led up from The Seafood Restaurant to the St. Petroc’s Hotel.  But it was very mild, so mild in fact that Richard was just in shirt sleeves and a light cord jacket and still feeling overly warm by the time the bistro was reached ten minutes later. 

St Petroc’s Hotel is a classic example of the Georgian architecture to be found dotted around Padstow.  Its grandiose portico entrance perhaps slightly overstates what is to be found within its white painted rendered and stone walls though its rooms are as charming as one could hope for.  It may well have been a private house originally but, if so, it has been tastefully converted into the comfortable welcoming hotel it now is. 

Faith in Rick Stein’s eating houses was very much restored by The Bistro.  The wine lists across the three restaurants are largely in common and that enabled us to order a further bottle of the Macon-Montbellet 2007 Talmard which the list quite rightly states will restore your faith in the splendour of French Burgundy.  It did at lunch and equally did so whilst yet another menu (see scans) was studied, discussed and mentally consumed. 

Despite the mouth-watering choices, neither Richard nor Charlie could face a starter after the excesses of the past twenty-four hours and thus went straight for a main course, Charlie, the whole grilled lemon sole with mushrooms and brown shrimps and Richard the grilled haddock with beer, bacon and Savoy cabbage. (the haddock crusted with thyme and caraway, the beer Chalky’s bite).  They were excellent, particularly the haddock so cleverly complemented by Chalky’s Bite, the savoy cabbage and the bacon.  Again, additional side orders were declined with a view to making room, after a suitable delay, for one of the appetisingly listed desserts. 

We both selected apple strudel with a brandy sauce.  It sounded so simple and whilst always liked by Richard, held little promise of the culinary treasure it turned out to be; it was absolutely fabulous.  The pastry was not recognised but was soft, delicate, non-greasy and had cleverly picked up none of the apple liquid.  The filling had all the flavours expected from a strudel but none of the heaviness that normally accompanies it.  The brandy sauce went almost unnoticed except upon reflection when it is realised it cuts through any possibility of heaviness and sets off the taste buds a treat.  The apple itself was delicate, not too sharp or too sweet and perfectly cooked being just firm enough to still have a little crunch to it.  It was so impressive that on leaving the recipe of the pastry was asked about.  Amusingly, the kitchen when asked by the waitress, did not know.  The head waiter then dived into the computer to find the answer but was forced to give up after ten minutes of hunting. 

Our stroll back to the Seafood Restaurant was a further delight with a star-lit sky to admire and with no wind whatsoever to temper the inner warmth we both felt after such a delightful evening in an idyllic bistro environment; the combination induced a quiet romantic mood in us both and a feeling that life could be little better. 

Breakfast the following morning was again taken in The Seafood Restaurant and whilst Charlie’s scrambled egg had to be sent back as it looked more like a broken omelette, even that added to the impression of good service as it was very promptly replaced with a freshly cooked portion, exactly to her liking and as had come right first time the previous day.  Richard meanwhile was in smoked haddock heaven; his poached egg was cooked to perfection with the yolk flowing easily across and into the flakes of the firm and full flavoured smoked haddock; it was undoubtedly the best he had ever been served. 

As to the overall impression of the weekend and the service received?  The exchanges at St. Petroc’s reception over the apple strudel were absolutely typical of the care and attention provided by every member of staff we met during the weekend.  All were cheery and apparently happy in their jobs and could never do enough to please us, their customers, without ever being overly present or pressing.  They were the perfect complement to the expected culinary delights and they that made the weekend into something really special and never to be forgotten. 

Thank you Julia and Len, we had a ball and thought little of our trials and tribulations. 

Christmas Day

In recent years Christmas had been spent in Torquay with celebrations starting at Mandy’s on Christmas Eve and moving to Alan’s for Christmas Day and where we resided for two nights.  Charlie had opted for Christmas at home back in August feeling as we did then, it might be her last.  Logistics would not allow us to accommodate more than Angus, Karen and their two brats (that is what we call all ten grandchildren) and with Neil working Christmas Eve and Boxing Day as was Alan, and Alan being a chef having to work on Christmas Day until 3pm, the celebrations were going to be shorter than usual.  We decided nonetheless that is was going to be something special and, hopefully, memorable.  We were to be twelve for Christmas lunch. 

The day started with us opening our presents and cards in bed, as we do, with a couple of cups of tea a little after seven.  Richard nipped down to make the tea and to remove the turkey from the bottom oven where it had been slowly cooking overnight; its aroma did much to set the scene for the day. 

Charlie’s cooking had started many months before with her famous (within the family) Christmas Pudding which had since preparation been quietly maturing under the stairs.  It was to be complemented by Alan & Mandy’s absolute favourite of Charlie’s, her lemon cheesecake.  So, two puds. 

We decided on a choice of two starters and two mains.  Charlie chose to prepare potato and leek soup with the starter option being smoked salmon (smoked locally by an attractive, typically French, fishmonger in Newton Abbot) complemented by Charlie Bread, a granary bread she makes only occasionally as it is so good to eat, pounds are put on within days by Richard; not because of the bread per se, but through the amount of butter he would pile on it. 

The main courses were deliberated over for some time.  Eventually it was agreed that there had to be turkey for the traditionalists and something special, particularly to please Charlie, a rare fillet of beef that Richard does broadly following a Jamie Oliver recipe. 

A phone round of the guests in advance sorted out who wanted what in advance and enabled appropriate quantities of the main ingredients to be acquired.  Surprisingly, only three adults and two littlies wanted turkey, the rest wanted beef.  That meant 2kgs of fillet steak, a whole fillet as it turned out. 

Richard stuffed the turkey under its skin with a blended mixture of bacon bits, onion and garlic and cooked it in the bottom oven of the Aga overnight, finishing it off with an hour in the top oven.  The fillet of beef was rolled in finely chopped seasoned rosemary and thyme then rolled in porcini mushrooms cooked in butter that had previously been spread on overlapped slices of Parma ham, string tied and put in the top oven for twenty minutes.  Half a bottle of wine and the porcini juice was then added and the dish returned to the top oven for a further twenty minutes, then put aside to rest whilst the red wine sauce was reduced somewhat and the vegetables for both dishes finished off. 

Brussels, parsnips, spinach (for the beef) and potatoes had been prepared on Christmas Eve as had Charlie’s sage & onion stuffing and Richard’s sausage meat patties made from skinned local pork and apple sausages.  Both roast and creamed potatoes were cooked, the latter whipped up with celeriac and crème fraîche. 

All came together on the day at 7pm as planned around our eight foot kitchen table and as we sat down, homemade crackers were pulled, each one containing a small present selected specifically for each guest.  It was a great feast that all enjoyed and even the two littlies behaved perfectly, Lucas in his high chair, feeding himself for the first time on the Christmas faire, much of which ended up on the kitchen floor. 

We had wondered whether we had taken on a bit too much for Charlie to cope with but all was well in that regard to, tiredness not being felt until after all had gone home or to bed and we were left with just the glasses to wash.  We retired to bed, tired but very happy with the resultant day at just after midnight.  It had been a Christmas day to remember. 

New Year’s Eve

It has almost become a custom for the Days and the Smiths to trek over to the Cooper’s farm in Netherton.  This year was to be the same though as time has gone on, each couple have prepared a course for the diner and taken it over with them. 

It was a great evening but somehow it did not gel for us; something to do with celebrating the incoming year with joyous expectations.  It was not quite the way we saw it and the popping of champagne corks at midnight and all attending (there were several first-footers there by then) wishing each other a happy new year et al, left us a bit cold and feeling right out of it.  Our expectations for the New Year were far from good or optimistic.

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