Synopsis of 2009

As with previous years, our E’s From Aboard and Abroad 2009 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. The end of 2008 expanded, Christmas festivities, a poor start to 2009 but a haggis to the rescue
  2. Out to the boat, a Progressive Dinner and the legend of Mavrodhafni
  3. Weather to leave Crete or not?  Onward to Thira, Ios and Naxos with Rod & Pat aboard
  4. A delightful new find on Paros, through the Cyclades, Saronic, Corinth Canal and into the Ionian plus yachts can be an expense!
  5. Orthodox Greek Easter celebrations, more on expense and a good bit more on laughter as Rod & Pat depart
  6. Peace, tranquillity and simple pleasures revisiting some favourite Ionian haunts, finding a new one, more humour and the Evills are aboard
  7. Simple pleasures continue, good news and bad news but which comes first?
  8. Goodbye to some old friends, hello to some new, the trip back to Aghios Nikolaos full of sailing and brownie points won and lost
  9. It had to happen as it can’t always be good news tempered by some stories missed from above
  10. A repeat trip to sunny southern France
  11. Three more traditional holidays.  One to Aghios Nikolaos and Our Girl, one to Madeira and one to European Christmas markets 

 

Notes

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

Some photos are included in the text this year; many others can be found in the photos section of the website.

 

E From Aboard 2009/1

Is this the first “ E” for 2009 or a rewrite of the last of 2008’s?  You decide.

 It has been hanging around for some time as the content will make obvious.  There was a reluctance to publish it until we knew where we were with what has come to rule our lives, Charlie’s cancer.  Having been given a terminal prognosis with an albeit approximate timescale, has you looking at life as one might a longish and much needed holiday.  It’s all very exciting at the beginning but as the return to the trials and tribulations of a stressful working life gets closer, spirits tend to drop and an almost childish dread like that at the end of school holidays pervades your every waking moment.

Despite external appearances and the continuing will to fight and be positive in our outlook, thoughts of the end game loomed large as Christmas and the New Year passed and the late January check-up approached.  The weekend before the appointment was probably the worst we have experienced so far; Charlie particularly was very low and totally convinced the news would be bad and that her end was nigh.  Tensions were very high.

But why should we have thought that way?  Charlie had been very well indeed and her energy levels were certainly higher than they had been back in October when, what we were advised would be her last session of chemotherapy, finished.  She had also cut her daily morphine intake down by a third and her breathing was near to normal despite having only one fully functioning lung.  It was not logical to be so fearful but we both were.

Imagine our joy when, as most will already know, the Consultant Oncologist breezily informed us the cancer was still stable and that as a result of that further chemotherapy (when needed) was back on the cards.  We are calling it “the reprieve” and it has us planning now for the whole of 2009, not the still inevitable final ceremonies.

For the first time since this all started there was no reluctance whatsoever in the Consultant’s attitude towards us disappearing off to the Med and our beloved Charlie Girl IV.  “How long are you going for?” She asked.  “That’s up to you” replied Charlie.  “You’re the boss?”  The exchange flowed to and fro but in essence she was saying “just go out and enjoy yourselves and if and when you begin to feel unwell, give me a ring and we’ll discuss whether you should return for some further treatment.”  We told her we would be home for most of July and August anyway so she is arranging a further scan for early July.  Her whole attitude was one of evident surprise at the success of her chosen treatment regime and a wonder as to just how long the reprieve might last.

And so with our positive but realistic outlook totally restored, what have we been up to?

Christmas & the New Year

Shortly after hearing Charlie’s condition was terminal back in July 2008, 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 BistroThe 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.

On the family’s arrival, champagne was poured and presents exchanged.  The two eldest kids always struggle with what to get two wrinklies that have all they could materially wish in life.  But they always manage to surprise us and this year was to be no exception.  Self-appointed daughter-in-law-in-chief, Michelle rose to her feet and instructed others to carry and enormous cardboard box and place it at Charlie’s feet.  She then unrolled a scroll and read the following:

Pa & Charlie’s Present

The Children sat around the table and let out a collective sigh

‘It’s that time of year again & we have presents to buy.

The little ones are easy – books or games or teddies or toys.

The teenage girls not too difficult – they like stuff to attract the boys!

 

But what about the Wrinklies – they have lots of stuff!

We want to think of something special – boy, is it tough!!

Does Grandpa need a jumper or something else to wear?

Is there a book he would like to read whilst curled up in his chair?

 

And Charlie – what would cause her to exclaim with glee

‘Wow, how thoughtful – did you really get this for me’?!!

A new scarf, jewellery, perfume or smellies,

A book, a picture or a pair of bright pink wellies?

 

The Children – they could not decide or agree

Mandy felt all the presents suggested were Twee!

Alan just groaned & rolled his eyes back in his head

Whilst Neil & Michelle’s ideas went down like lead!

 

The Children sat & pondered whilst on Chinese food they did Dine

‘I know’ yelled Josh ‘We all know what they like - they both love to drink Wine’.

‘Booooring’ replied Daniel.  ‘They can buy that from Tesco

& then sit in their garden & drink it Al Fresco.

 

What would be really special is if they could have a Vineyard Tour

We could throw in lunch & a bottle or 2 or 3 or 4

But where would we find such a special day in the beautiful South West?

Well, there is Yearlstone Vineyard - & it’s reputedly the best!

 

So with this in mind, Pa & Charlie, on this Christmas day

We would like to give you some vouchers to help you on your way

To Yearlstone Vineyard in Devon for a tour & lunch if you so choose

Afterwards some Wine to takeaway – we know how much you love your booze!

 

So have a Happy Christmas & enjoy your present a your leisure

We really, really hope it gives you lots of pleasure!!

 

Happy Christmas from Alan, Mandy, Neil, Michelle Josh & Daniel xxx

 

By the time she was finished Charlie was in full flood.

Charlie’s cooking had started many months before with her famous (within the family) Christmas Pudding which had since preparation in the Spring 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 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 dinner and taken it over with them.  It was a great evening but somehow for us the bringing in of the New Year had none of the usual hope and expectation of a freshly dawning year, a new beginning or a fresh and joyous outlook; we expected to be parted for ever before the New Year was out.

 

Burn’s Night

We needed something to raise our spirits after the c t scan was done and we had a week to wait for the results so four of our friends were invited round for supper.  We then realised that it would Rabbie Burns 250th anniversary that weekend and with me being an adopted Scot (my adoptive Mother was a true Scot), that seemed an adequate excuse for a Burn’s Supper and to pinch some ideas from our Scots friends who often put on a lavish Burn’s Supper.

The menu was as set out below and our friends were fore-warned that a bit of poetry or prose would be required to add a little fun to the evening.  Everyone did their bit.  Richard did the traditional Grace reasonably well and then made pretty awful job of the Address Tae a Haggis, but as no sassanack has a cat in hells chance of understanding what was being said, all but he thought it was great.

Grace

Some hae meat an canna eat

And some wad eat that want it

But we hae meat and we can eat

And sae the Lord be thankit

 

Pre Pudding

Cullen Skink

A soup comprising

smoked haddock, leek and herbs

in a milk and fish stock, thickened with mashed tattie

Served with Charlie bread

 

After the Address, the Main Pudding

Haggis

(you don’t want to know what’s in it!)

Accompanied by

Neaps, tatties and Savoy cabbage

 

The Pudding Pudding

Cranachan

Lightly toasted oatmeal, whipped cream and raspberries

Flavoured with whiskey & Sweetened with honey

And perhaps a spoonful of ice cream

 

A Wee Bit a’ Prose

 

Pat (of Nick & Pat Goodall) had written a lovely bit of poetry aimed at us, our invitation and hospitality whilst Andrew & Jeanne had come along with a bit ‘o Burn’s wee sleekit, cowrin, timorous beastie and a Burn’s related joke.  Both went down very well and the evening did the business; we both went to bed a good bit happier.

What’s Next?

Well it’s panic time.  Whilst we booked our flights out to Crete last October as part of our ‘positive thinking moves mountains’ campaign, now we were actually going we only have five weeks to get organised.  House watching arrangements to be made as we are no longer letting it.  Tax returns to finalise and get the dreaded paid.  All the banking to be sorted so it would continue to run itself rather than receive daily attention to squeeze every last penny out of the meagre interest rates.  The sale of CGIII (our last yacht in charter) to be completed and that was going to be the usual nausea; Richard will have to go out to Corfu next week for a few days.  All the bits and pieces bought for CGIV that we had listed as ‘essential’ but had not bought in case we were going nowhere; that is a longish list and not all is available locally.  The garden to straighten up and get our gardener Rose organised for the Spring and early Summer. Organise the necessary doctor’s letters to cover the drugs we would be carrying and ‘persuade’ our GP it was OK to prescribe five month’s worth of injections and drugs.  And then there are all the family and friends who rightly say “we must see you before you go”.  Re-direct the post so it will be managed in our absence.  The list was endless but what fun!

So we fly out on the 3rd of March and then ........................  well, read the next E and find out.

 

E From Aboard 2009/2

There were deep doubts in our minds about returning to Charlie Girl IV for the Spring and early summer.  Charlie had been going through a patch of mild depression and negative thinking resulting in her detached mind convincing her conscious mind that the cancer had again flared up causing her to actually feel unwell to boot.  Richard, with other pressures brought on by the current world economic climate’s potential affect on our finances as well as the constant pressure of Charlie’s condition, was not on top form and did not handle Charlie well.  Or perhaps it was all just the February blues that most folk suffer from at this time of year; who knows?  Nonetheless we embarked on the trip out on Tuesday the 3rd of March as planned.

The day dawned well with Rod Day finding us in high spirits when he picked us up for the trip to Exeter St David’s station and our 08.49 train to Reading.  Everything seemed to being saying to us both, “it’s Ok, all is well, get on and enjoy yourselves”.  The weather was mild and sunny, the train on time, the travelling chef was on board and our full English breakfast delivered to our table on proper china plates with proper stainless steel cutlery.  After all we were travelling first class albeit for peanuts money!

The rest of the journey out seemed to be giving the same message; all trains and flights arrived early and the time gaps between sectors produced nothing but calm being just long enough for a snack or a meal without being so long as to become boring.   And so, courtesy of Robin & Pauline who picked us up from Herakleon airport for the last 65kms of our journey, we arrived at the marina and our beloved yacht at half-past-midnight, local time, half-past-ten home time, to find the sea equally calm and CGIV a surprisingly warm 16.5°C below decks.  Having to make the bed was a bit of a chore but was soon done and we hunkered down for an excellent night’s sleep under the full double duvet we use for winter time.

Awakening in the morning was as if in a dream; the wind was but a light breath, the sky clear and blue and the sun was rising majestically above the sharply outlined mountain peaks twenty miles east of us; a picture book dawn indeed.  CGIV lies roughly east-west with the cockpit facing east and so our early morning tea was taken on deck soaking up the welcoming atmosphere.  But the sun was strong and neither the Bimini nor the Sprayhood were on to protect us from its rays.  That was going to be the first job to be done!  And so it was, inspecting the repairs and modifications Udo had carried out for us over winter.

Charlie was expected to be over-tired after the previous day’s long journey but it was not so.  Her energy levels were well up and the unpacking completed almost whilst she prepared breakfast.  Shopping for essentials (such as wine) followed before Richard, over come with the desire to sail, started unpacking the running rigging and fitting some whilst raising the boom from its winter resting place on the starboard quarter gunwale.  Before we realised it, evening was upon us and tiredness set in.  An early and sumptuous pasta meal was had at Ela’s before we retired to bed early at 9pm for a well-earned sleep.

During the night a southerly gale got up which moved us around a bit but that is somehow very comforting when you are safely moored up in your home marina.  It blew hard for most of the day and a good part of the next but the sun stayed out and it was warm!

More detailed shopping was done on Thursday in anticipation of the Progressive Dinner organised by Tony of Little Round Top for anyone’s enjoyment who cared to participate.  For those who don’t know and we didn’t, a Progressive Dinner is one where you enjoy a three-course meal taking each course on a different yacht and with different people.  You are allocated a course, ours was a main course, but only know you have to provide all that is required for yourselves and four other people (assuming two on a yacht which most are); you are not told who they are to be.  At 6pm with proceedings starting at 7pm, you are told which yacht you will find and hopefully enjoy your other two courses; all very childish but huge fun.

Our starter was taken aboard Hob Nob and classic American yacht which, unfortunately, was still on the hard meaning a long climb up a steep ladder set against her gunwales was required, not Charlie’s favourite pastime to put it mildly.  A pleasant hour was spent over a Tapas based mixed starter liberally washed down with copious quantities of Spanish champagne, Cava to be more precise, kindly provided by our American hosts Doug and Shana with Paul and Anne from Tui of Bristol from further down our pontoon.

At 8.15 we rushed back to CGIV to complete our main course of Chicken in sage and white wine, celeriac mash, broccoli and carrots to be accompanied by a local white wine and a local equivalent of Beaujolais.  Our guests arrived promptly at 8.30 being John and Isobel from Pathfinder and Ray & Hillary from Koala  All too soon it was time to move on for our sweet to be taken on Flapjack with Robin and Pauline where Tony and Tessa, the organisers, were already ensconced.  We suspected a fix!  Pauline did us proud with an apple cheesecake, sliced oranges in Cointreau and a selection of cheeses, all accompanied by a selection of sweeter wines including a red called Mavrodhafni (Black Daphne) from the indigenous grape of the same name.

Yet another Greek legend surrounds this most delightful of almost black red wines.  The legend has it that in the early 19th century the then Greek King, Othon, a Bavarian, encouraged fellow Bavarians to join him in Greece, one of whom set himself up as a vinyardist who rapidly developed a penchant for the dark, black grape, its resultant wine and a similarly coloured dusky maiden named Dhafni who worked the vineyard.  In ancient times the god Apollo had pursued a Dhafni who spurned the advances of the god and so it was with their latter day humans.  Regrettably our modern day Dhafni died and our vinyardist in his grief named the grape after her. 

One is supposed to muse over this tragic love story whilst sipping the delightful sweet red wine still produced in her name.  We did, as far as we can remember.

And so ended a most enjoyable evening marred only by having to return to our yacht and ‘do the washing up’ before retiring at a very late for us, 1.15am!

The Cretan winter and the persistent red sand storms blowing in from the North African coast had taken their toll of CGIV’s appearance.  There was no choice, she was to power-washed and scrubbed and surprisingly we were fit enough so to do on the Saturday despite the excesses of the previous night’s festivities.  And despite a little tiredness, the remainder of the running rigging was fitted in anticipation of putting the sails back up as soon as the winds allow.

The days are rushing by as if in haste and here we are almost a week since our arrival and with the sails still to get up.  Rod & Pat will be joining us on Saturday the 14th for our 500 mile trip up to the Ionian where we hope to be for the Greek Easter.  Hence the hasty preparation of this “E” as it is Rod who kindly collates them at sticks them up on the website for all to read.  Equally that means there will be no further “E’s” until they return home in mid-April so those who sometimes do, worry not, no news will be good news!

 

E From Aboard 2009/3

Sometimes weather forecasts can be relied upon and sometimes they can’t.  Our escape from the persistent clutches of Crete was to fall into the latter category with potentially dire consequences.

The highlight of the 14th of March was Rod & Pat’s arrival, pretty well on time.  They were greeted by a bright and sunny afternoon and a clement temperature of around 20°C making the 65km drive back along the coast to Aghios Nikolaos a most pleasant one.  After swiftly unpacking their bags the short walk to Portes and the traditional Greek supper it provided began their introduction to marina life in Ag Nic.

The following day being Sunday meant a barbeque for which we had bought the food in advance for all four of us.  Having arranged a hire car to pick Rod & Pat up from the airport, the morning had been spent shopping which, inevitably when a car is available, involves a trip to Lidl to stock up with cheap basics.  On the way we stopped at a local butcher where Charlie asked the butcher for twelve lamb chops.  He smiled, picked up a whole side of lamb and a huge chopper and with an equally huge smile turned his back on her to access his block.  All Charlie saw was the rise and fall of the chopper followed by the repeated thunk of its blade reducing the side to a heap of chops and other bits, eminently and more than adequately suitable for a bar-be feast.  There was enough to feed eight and all for €10.00.  And of course the bbq was a great opportunity for Rod & Pat to meet the majority of the marina’s inhabitants as well as for Richard & Charlie to catch up with who had left or joined since the previous November and so it was.

The next few days were taken up by a hectic social calendar and with Rod helping Richard with jobs on the boat that would have been difficult or impossible single-handed.  In addition Rod & Pat explored for themselves the niceties of the marina and Aghios Nikolaos town.  They also hired a car and drove up into the mountains to explore the Lasithi  Plateau (Pat’s photo) and the coastline round as far as Mochlos.

The normal routine when planning to leave Crete is to take a short trip up to Spinalonga as that provides an ideal ten mile opportunity to check all is working as it should be before tackling the longer and more challenging journeys required to escape its clutches.  It also knocks ten miles off the fairly long legs involved if going either west or north.  Unfortunately the winds for the past fortnight had been strong northerlies in the main and the medium range forecasts showed little sign of them, or strong southerlies, abating.  A window of opportunity started to appear in the forecasts just before Rod & Pat’s arrival, suggesting we may be able to escape around ten days later.   Then a further opportunity appeared for the Saturday with light winds on the Friday, ideal for the Spinalonga leg.

Before we could depart the intense social calendar had to be completed.  First the celebration of St. Patrick’s day in a local bar with live entertainment including some pretty sophisticated music as well as Richard assisting Paul with the delivery of some limericks Paul had written about some of the yachts and their crews.  This was followed by a delightful supper on Tui of Bristol where limerick Paul and his dear wife Ann treated all four of us to a lavish three course meal of stuffed peppers (with a choice of feta cheese or roast vegetable stuffing), a prawn curry with numerous poppadums (much to Rod’s delight) accompanied by special egg fried rice, all finished off with a wonderful selection of nummy nummy noummies (an expression learnt from our New Zealand friend who owns and runs Sailing Holidays to describe such super sweet sweets) acquired from one of the local shops.  It was a delightful evening and ideal for our last night before departure, or so we hoped.

Friday dawn broke cold, grey and overcast.  Upon seeing that through the hatch above their bed, Richard whispered to Charlie “don’t care what the forecast says this morning, we’re not sailing in that!” and turned over to go back to sleep.  But by seven am the sky had cleared, become a lovely sharp blue and the rapidly rising sun was warming the boat a treat.  Up we got only to find the wifi connection was down and we couldn’t get a forecast!  No forecast, no trip.

The morning continued to warm up nicely so a plan to get all the remaining pre-trip jobs done was drawn up over morning tea and selectively volunteered for until all were covered by someone.  Decks were washed, tanks filled with water, electrical connection severed and attendant equipment stowed.  Rod & Richard rode the bikes round to the Port Police to complete the formalities required for leaving port (one has to have the paperwork in order to avoid arrest at a later port) being the travel log and crew list in the main, with official stamps in all the right places.  That was soon done and on the way back coffee taken in the Cafe du Lac whilst the internet was accessed for weather forecasts and the last bit of bank account management for a few days.

The forecast was near perfect; light northerlies for the day (Friday) followed by a turn over night to F5-6 southerlies, both with cloudless skies, bags of sunshine and a clement 19°C.  Not very warm so thermals would need to be worn as the chill factor in an F6 could reduce that to low single figures.  F5-6 was going to be a bit challenging but being forecast to be almost up the bum, quite manageable and ideal for a fast passage to Ios some 90nms NNW of Spinalonga.  A stop in Thira only 65nms up was to be avoided as the weather was forecast to worsen on the Sunday and the thought of being stuck in its marina for a few days was not inviting.

The forecast information was shared with Charlie & Pat over coffee, the final decision to go taken, the bikes folded and stowed, the six stern mooring lines reduced to two out-and-backs ready for departure and the many goodbyes started and finished.  At 13.00 hours the lazy lines were dropped, the two remaining stern lines slipped and to a cacophony of air horns we slipped gently out of our mooring and noisily left the marina behind.

The short sail up to Spinalonga was just perfect.  The engine was sweet, the newly fitted engine log was working as it should with the rev counter perhaps needing some minor adjustment as it appeared to be over-reading.  It had waited a year to be fitted as Volvo’s instructions on how to fit it were written to make sure only an approved engineer could deduce the correct coding of its chip but by trial and error Richard deduced the code.  The genoa was fine, unfurling easily and furling just as well but with a few too many turns of the new reefing line on the drum that would need reducing to avoid the chance of jamming.  The main sail required some trimming but then was fine and after a couple of hours we dropped the anchor just off Spinalonga island itself and got stuck into those final adjustments.

Richard then produced a tasty dish for supper of a whole chicken roughly portioned, browned off in well seasoned olive oil and cooked with some sliced garlic, white onions and small shoots from a plant in the celery family, covered in white wine and simmered for an hour or two.  It makes for a lovely rich, sweet and celery flavoured sauce that goes beautifully with finely chopped green cabbage and mashed potato.  It was hungrily and excitedly consumed by the team, all keen for an early bed in advance of an even earlier rise in the morning.

There was still some trepidation about the trip particularly with Charlie as she was leaving her comfort zone of the marina and its easy and well-known access to the airport and a plane home if needs be; an understandable concern that clashes with her desire to return to her beloved Ionian.  All were concerned about the weather and sailing up in an F5-6 with winds of far greater strengths some hundred miles or so to the south west and north east.  It was to be a restless night’s sleep for both Rod and Richard.

The phone alarms went off as planned at 04.30 and by 04.50 the anchor was up and we were under way, mug of tea in hand, with Charlie & Pat still snugly tucked up in bed.  There was but a breath of southerly wind to warm the 11°C over-night temperature as we motored out of the bay and up the 4nms to round Ak Ay Ioannis, always the first point of concern as are most such headlands in this sailing world of ours.  But it was passed without incident and still there was little wind; barely 8knts.  The course was adjusted to 340° to take us the eastern end of the south entrance of Thira’s caldera (crater).

About 3nms off the cape, the wind came in at F5, around 20knts, so out went the genoa to assist the donkey and increase the speed made over the ground from 7.5 to 8.5knts.  It lasted but a few minutes before dropping back to around 8knts.  We motored on somewhat disconsolate at not enjoying a good sail in the relatively flat sea.

At 07.00 the wind rose to a steady 21knts and thoughts of giving the donkey a rest rose in the mind.  Then at 07.10 in came the navtex forecast and Richard went below to study its content.  Never had he seen such a long forecast, principally gale warnings with the timing split between current and later in the day.  Practically all sea areas bar the one we were in were forecast seriously increased wind and thunderstorms, perhaps a sailor’s worst fear.  The area within which we were sailing was still forecast as F5-6, 17-27knts, but the sunshine had changed to thunderstorms later; later being more than twelve hours ahead.  The areas on either side and ahead of us were forecast winds of F6-9, 22-47knts; it was not looking good.

A short debate was had as to whether it was better to continue or turn round and go back but being now five hours from Ag Nik in good conditions let alone motoring into a near gale legislated for continuing being the better option despite it being a few miles further to Thira; time wise it would certainly be less and much more comfortable.

The donkey was kept on and as the wind increased, still from behind but now firmly on the port quarter, speed increased proportionally until we were comfortably averaging more than 9knts, twice the speed we could have expected to achieve going back.  Further tea was made and Charlie & Pat joined us on deck hunkering down behind the spray hood which had them staring at the ever increasing height of the seas approaching our port quarter.  All were wearing their life jackets and were harnessed on.  Soon, the seas were making it over the port quarter and over the deck though not sufficiently to cause real concern other than from watching these huge waves travelling three times our speed and towering two or three metres above our deck level; it is their steepness that makes a Mediterranean sea more threatening than its Atlantic counterpart.

Richard stayed behind the wheel watching the instruments, mainly in case the battering the big waves were giving us knocked CGIV so far off course that Tim (the auto-pilot) could not bring us back or in case she broached (turned rapidly to windward, buried her nose in the next wave and turned turtle).  He was horrified to see the wind speed gust to over 45knts, the top end of a strong gale.  A further reef was put in the genoa to reduce the risk of a broach.

But we need not have worried, CGIV was easily up to the task and all soon settled down to the uncomfortable motion taking some comfort from the fact that the sun was still shining and there was little sign of cumulus cloud developing that may lead to the dreaded thunderstorms.

Once Richard felt sure CGIV had settled into her stride and the wind had backed slightly and abated a bit to a steady F7, his thoughts turned to crew morale which was looking pretty low.  Pat had made a huge container of vegetable soup to consume on the way up so he asked, “anyone fancy a mug of hot soup?”  “You must be joking” said Charlie.  “You can’t possibly go below and do that in this”.  But he did and it was easier than even he thought it might be.  Four mug-full’s were soon heated, ladled from the pan to the mugs and delivered up top.  The beneficial affect was immediate and spirits rose enormously particularly as Thira was now in sight albeit still three hours away; it wasn’t so bad after all, was it?

The hours slipped by surprisingly quickly as CGIV ate up the miles towards Thira whilst Richard’s thoughts moved on to the likely affect that the seabed suddenly rising from hundreds of metres deep to just twenty in just a mile or so, would have on the following seas.  “Will we be seeing waves of five or more metres as we enter the caldera?” he thought.  As we approached the rise in the seabed, preparations were made for entry or aborting the attempt if it showed any signs of becoming dangerously difficult.  The spray hood was dropped so Richard could clearly see the seas ahead and control taken back from Tim so a midpoint course could be steered through the gap in the caldera walls where the depth was at least twenty metres.  It was a nerve-racking half-an-hour.

Surprisingly the sea was largely unaffected by the seabed rise though some fairly staggering katabatic gusts were created by the narrowing at the entrance.  Soon everyone relaxed and the donkey was turned off, partly to satisfy Rod’s dream of “sailing through a volcano” as he put it and partly so that advantage of the slightly calmer water inside could be taken for some lunch to be prepared.

The caldera is nearly 7nms across and as we progressed towards the northern exit the sea steadily reduced to almost a flat calm.  Lunch was prepared by Charlie and hungrily consumed though the usual glass of wine or two were passed up on the grounds of safety; we still had 20nms to go and the seas would return as soon as we cleared the lee of Thira.

As we approached the exit the sky was filling with dark cumulus cloud approaching us rapidly from behind; it was going to rain: whether we got thunder and lightning remained to be seen.

The seas did climb back to their somewhat frightening 4 metres on the port quarter and it did rain but not too hard.  Soon it was time to furl the genoa and prepare for our arrival in Ios; all on board were greatly relieved at sight of the entrance and the expectation of the expected quiet and safe mooring beyond.  It was not to be.

The entrance channel was relatively calm but as we turned into the harbour itself Richard saw, instead of the usual flat water, a very choppy sea and one other yacht moored up stern to the quay they were to use, pitching, rolling and surging appreciably; this was not what previous experience had led him to expect.

Nonetheless, after dropping Rod ashore to locate a couple of lazy line tails, we moored up with relative ease but the joy of that was short lived as the starboard side mooring, even though it included a stout spring, snapped with a bang in a lurch created by the swell.  A further hour was spent adjusting the mooring lines to reduce the affects of the surge in the harbour before we could relax at all.  It did not bode well for our stay in Ios.

To continue with such disappointing and downbeat news would be churlish as we are, in spite of its adverse nature still having fun and have safely escaped the persistent clutches of Crete.  So we will skip Sunday and Monday’s poor weather, its affects on our stay in Ios and move to Tuesday which forecast a further southerly wind starting the day at F2 and ending it at F5.  A move the 25nms up to Naxos was proposed and agreed upon.

Most of Monday night the wind blew strongly and persistently from the north so it was a pleasant surprise to be awakened in the morning to the sun streaming across the harbour and the Greek courtesy flag at the mast fluttering gently in a southerly vesper; it had everyone up smartly and rushing around preparing ship to leave harbour.

We slipped our moorings at 08.00 hours precisely as if that were the time specified by our cruise director and motored at a leisurely pace out of the harbour, turning left into the main entrance channel and on, slightly south of west to the open sea.  The breeze remained light and smack on the nose.

One and a half miles saw us clear of the channel and the promontory barring our turn northward for Naxos at which point the mainsail was raised, the genoa unfurled and sailing due north began.  A large dark grey cloud moved across from the east to block out the sun but Aeolus must have been watching over us for it was soon to move off quite rapidly back towards the east to worry Amorgos, Astapalaia and other islands of the distant Dodecanese.

Rod took the helm, struggling slightly to hold CGIV on course with the relatively light winds of 10-14knts and the swell pushing regularly on the port quarter.  It was not physically challenging and his facial expression was one of absolute bliss.  “You can stick the auto-pilot on whenever you like” said Richard.  “The batteries are well charged up”.  “OK” said Rod and helmed on for the next three hours before handing over to Pat who was equally disinclined to allow Tim to take over.

As the morning progressed the wind rose steadily but rarely got above 19knts.  It turned into the most idyllic of sails with Charlie resting in her usual position on the starboard side, feet up on the cockpit seat, soaking up the rays.  When midday arrived there were no fears of or restraints from Richard on the lunchtime glass of wine.  Everyone was in high spirits and warm to boot as the temperature rose steadily to a very nice 21°C.

Finally it was time to turn towards the east and enter Ormos Naxou and prepare to enter harbour.  It had been a perfect sail with a surprisingly high average speed of 6.3knts considering the wind was up the bum for much of the time.

Concerns about finding a berth in the tiny, so called, marina were ill-founded.  Richard’s desire was to be on the outer pontoon, nearest the entrance but on its northern side so they were perhaps in the safest spot for the forthcoming severe gale forecast for Wednesday.  That is exactly where the marinero indicated we should go.  We were to go alongside and in a, by now, good 20knts of wind blowing us off the quay, it was not going to be an easy task.  But the team rose to the occasion and it was completed at the first attempt almost as if there were no wind at all.  And we had mains power and water on tap to boot!

Wednesday was a Greek national holiday, their Independence Day.  Marches, bands, all folk dressed in their Sunday best and youngsters in various styles of national dress were to be expected and we were not disappointed (see photos).  It was a day of infectious fun and high spirits that all enjoyed immensely.  In fact Rod & Pat absolutely loved the place with its windy (twisty) stone flag paved, car free back-streets and ancient houses.  “It’s a bit like Venice without the canals.” Pat remarked (see photos).  The severe gale blew alright which with its attendant thunderstorms had a slight dampening affect on the festivities as the evening approached.  But the town remained crammed to capacity.  We ate in an Italian restaurant and feasted on some most excellent pasta dishes before walking home and getting drenched in a thunderstorm

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With the winds forecast for the next week or so we were going to be in Naxos for some time before moving on to our next major destination of interest, Monemvasia, 120nms west-south-west of Naxos.  And with Charlie feeling so well (see photos), Naxos proving such a pleasure to visit and there still being plenty of time to reach the Ionian for the Greek Easter, we shall not worry too much about a few days more here.

 

E From Aboard 2009/4

After a few days the predicted weather pattern for a week or so ahead improved sufficiently for consideration of moving on from Naxos.  This coincided nicely with our last Kiriacoulis cheque having been couriered across from Athens, signed by us and couriered onwards to our bank in London.

Saturday morning was bright and sunny if still a little chilly, ideal for a quick trip round the shops to provision up for a few days without port facilities.  We sailed at midday and had a lovely easy sail west-nor’-west up over the top of Paros to drop down into Ormos Naousis.  The thought was to anchor off in one of its many bays but with it being so calm we decided to visit its one and only little port, Naoussa, which we always felt would be untenable in the prevailing northerly winds and thus had avoided it on past trips.  It was to turn out to be an unbelievably pleasant surprise.

The Pilot gives little indication of its charm and attraction.  Granted its harbour has recently been substantially extended, largely in keeping with its older character-full surroundings and is now large enough to accommodate around fifty yachts; naturally, it is not finished as is common with all such EU funded Greek developments but the quays are well paved and the bollards, cleats and mooring rings largely in place.  Depending on the surge created by the prevailing wind, the new harbour may be tenable on the quay.

To a newcomer the old inner harbour, its previous extension in ions past and its small, white painted, largely two storey cottage properties in themselves look like a museum collection of what might have been found in a typical Cycladic village or town centuries ago (see photos). 

Arriving in the middle of a Saturday afternoon and the weather being fine and sunny, the place was heaving with Greek visitors from elsewhere on Paros all enjoying the unexpected sunshine and warmth in either tavernas over an extended lunch or in bars tucking into ice creams and coffees.  The atmosphere was one of a fine Spring Bank Holiday in any UK seaside resort!

After a stroll round the narrow and windy back streets soaking up the atmosphere, it seemed appropriate to join the other revellers.  The affect of the place on our spirits was surprisingly extreme and certainly unexpected.  We both found ourselves deeply emotional without really understanding why.  It was tearfully discussed over a carafe of wine, deducing it was through the surprise find linked with the joint wondering of how many such finds were left to us to enjoy together and the not inconsiderable anger that Charlie’s cancer was going to limit the time left to us to search out such hidden treasures and equally not inconsiderable bitterness that our retirement plans were being so cruelly curtailed.  Such an outpouring of emotion was probably overdue, entirely healthy and will have empowered our spirits to continue with our life as if all were normal. 

Rod & Pat in their stroll had spotted a picturesque little taverna in the back streets considered ideal for supper.  Thus, after dark, we all trekked off to find it, turning right, left and right again, retracing our steps a dozen times before deciding we just couldn’t find it.  Much amusement was had and a few ribald comments made about who was going to do the navigating from now on!  We headed back for the main street and promptly walked straight into it.  It was closed.

A brief visit to a popular fish taverna on the harbour front told us its prices were far too rich for our taste.  Further walking found only one other very basic taverna open and that with its front door open and the chilly breeze blowing in.  We were cold but had to eat.  Charlie ordered the right meal, fresh sardines, whilst the rest of us ordered a pork chop each.  The sardines were fantastic, the pork chops were not and it all took an hour to arrive.

Wildlife

Over the past year or two Charlie has been deeply concerned about the number of dolphins in the Mediterranean.  Our sightings had become more and more infrequent and the size of the sighted ‘pods’ ever decreasing.  Over a period of just a few days sailing between Ios and Poros we had more than twenty sightings, one of which being estimated at over fifty dolphins.  It almost seemed like an hourly occurrence on some days.  It was indeed a reassuring sign of their continuing existence.  Excitement made filming and photography a bit hit and miss but one shot was managed that seemed worth including (see photo).

They really are the most magnificent of creatures and quite clearly enjoy human company and even seem to be egged on to more dramatic manoeuvres by our screams of excitement and pleasure.  Surely that and their own desire to play can be the only reasons why they should leave their organised routine of fishing to race up to a mile to reach us and then to dive in and around our bow and stern as we sail along. 

Bird life is as normal and great excitement was had on the 31st of March on the first sighting of a Swallow flying past at wave-top level, on its own, more or less due north and several miles from any land.  It always brings a smile to Charlie’s face and over the next few days that was to be repeated on sighting many more with a smattering of Martins and Swifts thrown in for good measure (see photo).  Surely Spring was here for sure now?

Standing under a shower, tearing up £50 notes?

An unkind but perhaps accurate description of what yachting can be about and one we were going to identify with for the first time.  Since returning in early March it has felt as if there is a Gremlin on board, other than Rod who we jokingly blame for everything and anything that goes wrong, particularly the weather.  We accept that CGIV now being five years old, parts are going to wear out and bits fall off but, please, not all at once!

It started with our main heads (loo) constantly siphoning itself dry and leaving an irritating leak to boot; only yachties will appreciate the nausea that involves.  It took Richard a week of trial and error to identify the two totally unrelated problems responsible before he succeeded in fixing it with the constant thought in his mind of having to replace the whole unit at not inconsiderable cost.  One down with only minor expenditure of about £25.00.

And talking of unpleasant smells, one of those developed whilst we were motoring off the island of Spetse.  On checking around for why and what, Richard discovered all the various coloured lights on the charging controller flashing in unison; a sure sign of potentially serious trouble.  Fortunately the wind had returned and we were able to sail into what we call East Bay within the channel leading to Porto Kheli to anchor for the night.  Further investigation found that the domestic batteries were not being charged whereas the engine battery was being over-charged and over-heated; boiling in fact, explaining the unpleasant smell.  Motoring anywhere further was going to be difficult and potentially costly.  Add that to the worrying rattle that had developed in the sail drive and perhaps it was risky to go anywhere at all!  Both these faults felt and looked potentially very expensive indeed.

Then there was the steaming and deck light fitting high up on the mast; it had broken loose of its fixtures on one side and needed securing.  Attempts to fix it were going to prove problematic as they involved a trip up the mast, a task which Richard does not relish and neither does Rod.  Eventually it was attempted, first by Richard who got as far as the first cross-trees before chickening out and then Rod who opted out just short of that.  Pat volunteered for a try and ****** well succeeded!  She wasn’t able to permanently fix it but it was a noble effort nonetheless (three photos).  Someone was going to have to be paid to fix this and replace the anchor light bulb at the masthead; subsequently they were at a cost of €100.00, not too bad in the circumstances

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As if that was not enough, the inverter blew up leaving us with no way of charging the computer or phone batteries other than when we had shore power.  £150.00 required to replace that!

Furthermore, in recent strong winds two seams of stitching on the genoa had come undone raising the risk of the genoa shredding.  On dropping the genoa it was decided that was unlikely as the unravelling was most probably associated with the removal of the tattered sacrificial UV strip a year or so back and the new stitching having missed the edges of the old.  Nonetheless the replacement of a well-worn and used genoa was clearly in the offing.  More expense, probably around £400.00.

So, with potentially a failed engine, no charging facilities, an engine battery in danger of complete failure, a genoa that might rip in strong winds and all the rest, we needed to find a port with reasonable engineering facilities; we decided to head for Poros some 40nms away.  The forecast for that day was NNE5 gusting 6, putting it pretty well on the nose; it was going to be a longish day with the mileage rising to 50nms through the constant tacking to windward.

The sail was not so bad and Charlie took the helm for perhaps the most difficult part of the trip where the wind ranged between nothing and 25knots and from all points of the compass.  As the photo shows, it took enormous concentration to keep CGIV at any sensible rate in the fluky light airs and even to keep her upright in the unpredictable gusts and stronger blows; Rod did a brilliant job constantly trimming the sails to match the wind. The last two hours or so of the trip were a straight forward beat into a fairly steady F5 (20knts).  With reefs in both genoa and mainsail, CGIV does not perform at her best but to some surprise amongst the crew we gingerly motored the last mile or so round the Poros channel to our usual mooring spot on the north quay well before 17.00 hours.

On Saturday morning Vangelis Vikos of Vikos Marine popped round to see what was required; at first it did not sound so good.  But upon discussing the engine rattle with his engineer and the power problem with his electrician and a subsequent visit from the engineer, matters seemed less severe.  The ‘rattle’ was the clutch and would cost in excess of €1,000.00 to replace with us having to vacate the yacht whilst it was done, if she had to be lifted (potentially another €350.00).  Fortunately, he didn’t think it was necessary to repair there and then and felt the job could be achieved in the water if we decided to go ahead once he had a price for the necessary parts from Athens.  The power problem was a probably a failed relay associated with the alternator and, given the part could be accessed promptly from Athens, it was a job of minutes rather than days.  Estimates of our stay varied from two to seven days.  We decided to move on with the rattle but have the electrical problem fixed and by Tuesday lunchtime we were on our way towards the Corinth canal, the wallet €260.00 lighter for fixing the electrics.

The sail drive rattle remains and given minimal engine use, will be looked at in Corfu where there is an engineer Richard trusts.

 

The trip continues with a bit more sailing than motoring

After anchoring in Ormos Linari for the night, it being just five miles from the Corinth canal’s eastern entrance, Rod & Pat were to be enthralled by the canal’s vista, the height of its near vertical walls, the narrowness of its width and its abundance of birdlife supported by its sandy walls; kestrels being particularly abundant.

Unfortunately, there being little wind, it was to be a long motoring session from there to Galaxidhi albeit in brilliant sunshine.  Three nights were spent in this most delightful of historic harbours, one of the days being used by Rod & Pat to visit Delphi.  The weather was absolutely perfect and the views enhanced by the still snow-capped mountains overlooking the bay (see photo).

Rod & Pat also spotted a real find, a taverna that only opens through the winter season and thus had not previously been seen by Richard & Charlie.  What a shame we didn’t manage to remember or note its name!  For future reference it is just over the top of the rise on the road leading up from the harbour to the town square and is found on the left-hand side of the road just past the bakers.  The food is fairly spectacular if slightly more expensive than the average, perhaps partially justified by its historic internal appearance, being old stained timber beams, columns, floor and ceilings with a suspiciously modern mid-height wall open fire in one corner.  It is also decked out with sailing memorabilia, photographs and paintings.

The forecast for Saturday through Monday (11-13th April) was for easterly to north-easterly winds, Force 3-5, perfect for our exit from the Gulf of Corinth and Gulf of Patras and our entry once again to our beloved northern Ionion.  A grave feeling of disappointment was briefly felt when on leaving we found no wind at all in the gulf.  That was soon dissipated as the breeze came in and a brisk sail commenced towards the Rion Bridge at Patras where the wind rose, as it always does, but this time it reached a maximum of 45knts making our passage between its columns and through the ferries plying back and forth across our course rather difficult under full sail.  But in the relatively flat sea it did allow us to reach a top speed of 10.4knts and an average speed of nearly 9knts for the next fifteen miles or so; albeit we did stop briefly and round up to take in the mainsail once the sea got up to match the wind; a two to three metre swell can encourage a broach and we undoubtedly had too much sailcloth aloft.

The 55nm trip to Mesalonghi was achieved in record time and we even managed to sail up its 3nm entry canal. Richard & Charlie had before decided Mesalonghi is a dump; this visit was to reinforce that view.  We headed for where others had since told us the mooring was better, less dusty and much quieter; perhaps it would have been if the mooring cleats on the pontoons had not been made of unreinforced cement and sand (no joke!) which broke up on imposing any load whatsoever.  Having tried a selection along that pontoon, we gave up and moored on a similarly new pontoon at the end of the freight quay that had proper metal cleats putting us at risk of the dust and debris that is blown along the quay for a pastime.  Fortunately, it being Saturday, the ship moored ahead of us and full of sand and ballast was not being unloaded.

Sunday morning saw us up fairly early, excited at the thought of escaping the clutches of this ghastly place and a continuance of the previous day’s almost perfect winds.  Sailing down the canal in a steady Force 5 our optimism was high and not disappointed though as we progressed westerly out of the gulf and into Thalassa Ekhinadhon the expectation of the wind dropping as it usually does was not realised and it steadily rose until we were sailing along under a full genoa but no main, quite happily if energetically, in a full gale.  Seas from 5-7m rolled in on our stern some of which made it over the sugar-scoop (cut away bathing platform) and on into the cockpit.  Wet feet for all!   But most just lifted the stern assisting CG’s lifting of her skirts before charging off down the slope of the waves as fast as she could go.

Our target was Poros on Kephalonia but a brief stop there quickly made it clear that it is untenable in a strong easterly as the surge that enters the harbour is quite sufficient to snap your mooring lines.  After swift lunch break, we motored up the coast and dropped into Sami for the night, a port we had always avoided in the past.  The place is charming if lacking in any real historic character though Richard is very unsure of its suitability and safety in anything other than benign conditions.  We spent some time mooring up and added extra lines in anticipation of a further blow which he instinctively felt was in the offing, a fact that was confirmed by the evening shipping forecast that completely changed the forecast we had been sailing on for the past couple of days.  Our night was disturbed by the southerly gale that despite the harbour idyllic position gradually worked its way round until the wind was on our beam, succeeding in dragging our anchor sufficiently for us to nudge the harbour wall at our stern.

The forecast on Monday morning was for the gale force conditions to continue for the next two days.  After careful consideration, we decided to sail up to Porto Spilia an old favourite lying as it does snugly under the cliff top village of Spartahori.  It was a further fabulous downwind sail, first up calm waters Steno Ithakis then in the more challenging seas whilst crossing Steno Keffalinias before entering the relative calm Steno Meganisiou.  The wind never reached the forecast full gale and was generally less than 25knts.  It was yet another great sail enjoyed by all despite it still being a little cold for the time of year and, for safety, having to be harnessed on the whole time.

Tuesday was a miserable day with almost constant rain.  Enough said!

Wednesday was the opposite, bright, sunny and just a bit warmer.  We had shot across to Nidri the day before for internet access, banking and shopping but were only too happy to be leaving port yet again with the expectation of another of our favourite sails, the inevitable beat to windward down Steno Meganisiou in light and fluky airs.  We were not disappointed.

On leaving the channel (Steno) the wind picked up on the beam finding seriously over-canvassed for the sail across to Kioni so upon reaching Arkoudhi (a small island) we took shelter in its lee to reef down the main before continuing the last 7nms to Kioni.  That was achieved in a little over 40 minutes!

Arrival in Kioni was another emotional moment for Charlie in particular and only slightly less so for Richard as departure from there the previous July had been thought to be the last time Charlie would see her most favourite of ports and her Greek boyfriend Costas.

And that seems to be an appropriate point to close this E From Aboard.  We have enjoyed our trip up from Crete immensely, particularly the past weeks spirited sailing of the last 150 miles of the 600nm journey.

So here we sit in Kioni, just awakening from its winter slumber in anticipation of the Greek Easter celebrations due to start on Friday (17th April).  Taverna awnings are going up, chairs and tables are reappearing to be immediately sat on by locals supping coffee or Metaxa whilst directing the necessary work rather than expending any energy themselves to hasten its completion; after all, there are still 24 hours to go and only three days work to do.  Cigar cigar.

And Charlie?  Still seemingly getting stronger by the day and looking forward to enjoying the Easter celebrations in Little Vathi on Meganissi but more of that in the next E.

 

E From Aboard 2009/5

Orthodox Easter Celebrations

For Greeks the celebration of Easter in all its facets is of greater importance in their Christian calendar than Christmas.  Similarly, their religion still has a far greater influence over their daily life as a whole than it now does for most in the UK.  Of course there are huge differences in the degree to which they are devout or just follow the tenants of the church’s teaching; that is particularly evident at Easter.

Our over-winter planning, made then in hope then rather than belief, saw us sailing up from Crete in time to reach Little Vathi on Meganissi in the Ionian in time for the Orthodox Easter celebrations; they were to be one week later than the UK Easter as the Orthodox church calendar differs from ours with Good Friday falling this year on the 17th of April.  It was probably a vain hope when first muted but all the expected obstacles, Charlie’s health, getting the boat ready, the weather being clement enough to leave Crete in time, the winds being in the right direction to cover the many longer legs of the journey, all seemed to disappear and here we were, moored up in our usual spot on the town quay mid-morning on Good Friday.  And the sun was out and it was warm!

Greeks tend to return home for Easter far more than we seek our families at Christmas and so a little island like Meganissi sees levels of traffic not seen at any other time of year and a sudden population explosion that can exceed that of the summertime holiday period.  Most arrive on Thursday, also part of the celebration weekend in Greece.  All are in the mood to party but that must wait until midnight on Saturday.

Good Friday evening is a sombre time and a service to mark the death of Christ starts fairly early in the evening, runs for two or three hours with the Papas’ (Priests’) chanting broadcast to the whole village via microphones and load-speakers on the outside of the church; it ends with the tolling of the church bells to a sombre rhythm for a further hour or so during which time the congregation vacates the church and parades around the whole village, most carrying candles, and a catafalque which we assume represents the body of Christ under an arch of flowers. It is a solemn and naturally moving scene deepened by the clever tolling of just three bells.

Prior to this a ‘guy’ had been made to represent Judas.  It is hung from a gallows and brushwood arranged around its feet.  This year his head was made from a plastic bag and his body from a mechanic’s boiler suit that appeared to have been a woman’s; either that or perhaps Judas was being portrayed as having had a sex change operation (see photo). He is also judicially stuffed with fireworks.  Clearly he is not intended to survive the experience.

Fireworks, mainly bangers, figure strongly in the run up to Easter and throughout the celebrations though it is difficult to see the connection with an otherwise ancient and traditional festival; fireworks after all are a fairly recent innovation.  Every day for a week or more before Easter you are regularly caught out by their loud and unexpected explosions.

As the procession nears its end and approaches the Judas scene, petrol is spread on the brushwood and set alight.  The effect is devastating and very noisy (see photo).  After a brief continuance of the throwing or letting off of bangers, in the street, under cars, in concrete mixers or street dustbins, all seem to dissipate to their various homes and quiet returns.

Saturday is pretty well a non-event with folk just sitting around quietly waiting for midnight.  For the devout the eating of meat and dairy produce has been off the menu for a week (if not all of Lent) and on Friday and Saturday this is extended to anything that has been crushed or deformed and that includes orange juice.  Some tavernas will even refuse to serve meat or fish to anyone including visitors though, somehow, octopus and calamari seem to have escaped the ban where we were.  A family of twelve dining with us on Friday night ate little more than bread, chips and salad though several plates of fried calamari found their way to the table and were eaten by some.  We tucked into some fantastic chicken souvalaki and pork chops, our taverna having no worries about serving us meat.

The letting off of bangers continued all day on Saturday but there was little other sign of celebration or festivity until after ten in the evening when a further church service commenced.  It ran on until well past midnight.

At around midnight the bells sounded a much more joyous call and as another candlelit procession began around the same route as Friday night, all hell let loose.  We had gone to bed at about eleven but were violently awoken by the noise of a whole firework display exploding in the sky less than fifty feet about our yacht’s masthead.  It was a terrifying noise and scared Charlie witless as she tried to gather her sleep-drenched thoughts.  The display and an even more intense period of banger throwing went on until well past one-o’clock.  It could have been quite threatening with several groups of young lads feigning a street war and lobbing bangers at each other but somehow it wasn’t.  No property was damaged in any way though the rubbish bins took a severe internal hammering.

The celebration is of course of Christ’s arising and is the time for feasting to commence, and it does.  Most make their way home after the service with their families in tow to have some fairly revolting soup made from the entrails of the sheep that have been slaughtered during the day.  As one might expect with an historically poor environment, nothing is wasted and even the blood finds its way into some dish or other.  The real feast however takes place later on Sunday with the sheep and in our case a goat as well, being spit-roasted for all to gorge and fill their deprived stomachs.  We were no exception and sat on the beach at Porto Spilia and did just that on some beautifully cooked goat and lamb.  Again the weather was obliging warm and sunny.

In some parts Monday is also taken as a holiday though it was not clear to us whether this was an official ‘day off’ as per our Bank Holiday Monday.  Whatever it was, the ferries leaving Meganissi that day were loaded down with cars and visitors returning home after the festivities.

 

Is the Ionian too expensive now?

It is sad to say about our most favourite of areas, the Ionian, but in comparison with other far less popular and admittedly more difficult sailing areas, it has, in parts, become money grabbing whilst offering a poorer service; there are exceptions but they seem to be less and less evident.

On service, we can get the basic essentials such as mains power, water, wifi and economic efficient laundries with ease in the most obscure of ports and islands but in the Ionian they are harder to find or just plain don’t work; in Levkas and Little Vathi the means to supply water and power were there but not available for use and in one of the largest marinas in Greece, Levkas, there was no working wifi available and when it is available we expect it to be charged extra for as it is in Gouvia.

On expense, in Rhodes a domestic load of wash & dry costs €3-4.00, in Levkas it costs €10-15.00.  A night’s mooring in Rhodes cost us €8.00 in 2006 and Levkas marina €45.00; now Levkas is €70 (2009) and they are charging extra for hot water in the showers; whatever next?  The town quays in two other of the most popular ports that have mains power and water facilities, don’t maintain them or service them so you can’t buy them!  Thousands of Euros have been spent enhancing Gaios on Paxoi and some water outlets have been added but you would need up to 200m of hose to reach it from most moorings.  They have also, thoughtfully, added free wifi access in the main square but, whilst accessible when we were there, it would not allow access to the Internet and nobody knew how to fix it.  Though to be fair about Gaios the coffee and Metaxas there in the bars were as cheap as anywhere we can find whilst the food in tavernas, whilst excellent, is 25% more expensive than elsewhere; the cheaper bar prices could be because we are well-known and were charged locals’ prices.

Meanwhile, back at the moans, perhaps coffee is the best indicator of all on price changes.  We always considered the UK coffee shops an expensive place to sit around and drink coffee and Greece exceptionally cheap.  Now, Cappuccino in Costa Coffee is around £2.00 in the UK, in Greece about €3.00 for a much smaller cup.  Accepting the exchange rate is a factor we wonder whether we are experiencing the expected cost of Euro zone equalisation coupled with Greek tourism struggling to make ends meet on such a short season.  Certainly in Gaios where we are recognised in some bars as ‘locals’ we paid less than the tourists for coffee and drinks.

Enough of that, it is still a beautiful area to sail and has character full places such as Gaios to enjoy and the vast majority of Greeks remain hospitable and friendly and we found a new spot for us, Vonitsa (more detail in E 6 to come) in the gulf of Amvrakikos where we found a fish supper with starters and wine for a total of €19.00.

 

Charlie Girl IV

Our girl is now five years old and up to now has cost us little or nothing in true maintenance costs; money has been spent on improvements but not maintenance or replacement with the exception of a new UV strip on the genoa that is.  This year continues to be very expensive on the maintenance front.

The ‘rattle’ in the engine was nursed until we reached Levkas where Joe Charlton’s Contract Yacht Services took a hand in identifying and fixing the cause.  Cutting out the boring detail, it took them two days of trying various new parts before discovering the fault was at the base of the saildrive (below the water line) and thus she needed to be lifted; that and a night’s charge in the marina cost us €695.00.  Joe has a reputation for being expensive but we did not find him so.  His charges for the necessary parts fitted were less than we had been quoted from Athens and his charges for the engineers’ time he reduced considerably.  Including a bottle of gas (which itself was the cheapest we have found this year at €7.82) and a new gipsy wheel for the windlass (€124.00) his total bill was €1,900.00.  Perhaps more important than the cost was the service; it was exemplary.  Immediate viewing of the problem was swiftly followed by the arrival of two competent and friendly engineers who slogged away unhappily until they found the problem and then happily apologised for how long it took them to find it.  We hold no blame there as the fault was obscure to say the least!

His team subsequently solved our charging problems in just two hours by refitting the regulator the electrician in Poros had disconnected as being ‘faulty’ and the cause of the original major problem.  As Richard had suspected, it was not faulty.  As soon as that was completed we moved and laid alongside whilst Joe himself and a helper removed our old anchor chain and replaced it with 70m of new, an extension of 20m we had been promising ourselves for some time.  All that cost another €700.00 that was both necessary (the old chain was now rusty and jumping for England) and good value.

Joe, on the off chance you read this, our grateful thanks to you and your team for the friendly, efficient service we received and the acceptable amounts you charged us.  It was very much appreciated.

We hope that is the end of major expenditure for this year at least.

 

Wildlife

Our first visit to Kioni around Easter found it still slumbering in its closed-up winter hibernation mode though produced some very culturally interesting excitement.  Whilst we were taking coffee on the beach, our fellow Greek participants leapt to their feet, not a normal action for Greeks taking morning coffee, and pointed with great excitement into the bay.  A small fishing boat was soon dispatched with three chaps aboard, the one in the bows holding a long wooden-poled trident attached to a long piece of fine rope terminated with a small fender.  Soon we spotted why.  A shark like fin could be seen cruising lazily around the inner harbour, occasionally darting at great speed as it attacked smaller fish for its breakfast.  Surprisingly it took no notice of the pop pop pop of the fishing boat chasing it round in circles.

New breed of frogs in Vonitsa supported by a plethora of Scops owls with their haunting plaintive cry on a bright, almost full, moonlit evening.

 

Laughter

Last but by no means least, Rod and Pat had fortunately arranged to leave us on the day CGIV had to be lifted thereby avoiding the traumas that involves.  It had been an interesting six weeks with some excellent sailing, some dramatic incidents and some new found delights (ports) on the way.  We think they enjoyed most of it and in particular the sights they saw; the delightful port of Naousa on Paros, sailing through Thira’s caldera (an ambition of Rod’s), Poros island and town, the Corinth canal, Galaxidhi, their trip to Delphi, passing under the Rion bridge at 12knts in 45knts of wind and the Greek Easter celebrations.  But the fun didn’t end there.

Pat cuts Rod’s hair presumably because Rod begrudges paying a barber £4.00 to do the job (Richard pays £20.00 for his and Rod thinks he’s potty).  Somehow that came up in conversation and the idea of Pat cutting Richard’s hair was born.  Their departure day was a stressful one with the engine problem still unidentified and the cost and consequences unknown.  Pat kindly wished to defuse the tension and raised the matter of ‘hair cutting’.  Richard saw it as a much needed diversion from the day’s tension.  Richard parked himself on a nearby park bench whilst Pat prepared her instruments of torture.  The atmosphere could have been cut with a knife or (scissors?) and Richard’s trepidation was evident (see photo).  The first cut was fine; a gentle trim all round.  A quick run back to the boat and a check in the mirror suggested all was well but more needed to come off all round; back to the bench.  Then the Gremlin that had been plaguing us since leaving Crete struck again this time at Pat’s right hand and the shaver it was holding.  The shaver was positioned at the base of his hair with the view of removing a thin layer all the way to the top.  It was not to be.  The Gremlin caused a seizure in Pat’s arm and a failure of the shaver’s guard producing a rapid uncontrolled upward movement of the arm whilst reducing the guard to zero!  Richard had a Mohican strip up behind his left ear.

Pat was very distressed, Charlie thought she ought to kill her or Richard for letting her loose; fortunately she couldn’t decide which.  Richard just laughed.  “After all” he said, “I can’t see it and the speed my hair grows, what’s the problem”.  Rod, well what could he say?  For the rest of the day the obvious puns came out in every conversation.  Charlie’s “I hope he doesn’t cut it to close?” and “That was a close shave” referring of course to one yacht just missing another whilst mooring up, being just one of many that had us all laughing.  It was good to end their trip with so much good humour.

Next?  Our trip up to Corfu and back down again to Levkas, already written up but giving time for this one to be read first before publication.

 

E From Aboard 2009/6

Weather forecasts this Spring have been perverse and sometimes downright unreliable.  The forecast for the 25th of April and our trip up to Gaios from Levkas fell firmly into the latter category.  Most forecasts said SE 2-3, one said cyclonic 2-3, all said rain and thunderstorms; not the best of forecasts for the 35nm trip but at least it gave the possibility of sailing rather than motoring the whole distance, something we have never managed in 25 years of making this trip.  We passed through the canal bridge in brilliant sunshine and a gentle SE’ly breeze but before we could put up the sails it disappeared completely so the motor stayed on.  An hour later a stiff NW’ly came in which is smack on the nose and brings the usual uncomfortable sea.  Soon it rose to 21-22knts, F5 gusting 6.  We were not amused.

Arrival in Gaios soon dispelled our bad humour particularly as the sunshine persisted and any sign of thunderstorms were a good 20nms east of us.  Our good humour was further aided by dhio poteri aspro crasi (two glasses of white wine) taken sitting under a colourful parasol belonging to our favourite bar in the now beautifully sand-stone paved square and by the owner, a sweet little older man with a lovely round smiley face and who speaks almost less English than we do Greek, who when he saw us, rushed out to greet us and instructed the girl who had served us that our drinks were on him.  A warm welcome indeed.

We then phoned Marguerite an elderly lady, now eighty she was to later tell us, and asked her to join us in the square for a drink which she duly did an hour later.  She regaled us with tales of what had been happening to her and Paxos since we last met some two years before and responded well to the detail of Charlie’s prognosis, some of which had already reached her via the yachty grapevine.  As ever, it was an enjoyable exchange so we invited her to join us for supper.  There she excitedly and proudly told us of her two year’s work in translating into English a book published in German in the early 1800’s about Paxiot life; the Paxos town council are soon to publish it for sale.  It was so complex it forced her to bite the technology bullet and acquire an ancient computer from the council.  Inevitably she got into a muddle and called in expert English assistance to sort her and “it” out.  “Now I know what you do on the dark winter evenings Marguerite. Tut tut.”  He said with a wide grin filling his much amused face.  Of course Marguerite had no idea what was causing his humour until he explained that the computer was full of pornographic movies downloaded by the previous users, thought to be the local fire service.  He kindly removed the lot, sorted her out with how to use Word and left her to complete her 400 page task.

Next morning Richard awoke early feeling uncomfortable but not really knowing why.  By the time the usual morning tea was made and being taken on deck, the reason became a little clearer; a light SE’ly breeze was blowing into the harbour; should it become stronger the harbour would soon become uncomfortable if not untenable.  Whilst CGIV was alongside tucked in just behind the projecting mole, it was holding four yachts anchored stern-to in front of her bow.  Warnings to one of the yachts had been given the day before about the poor holding where they were and the likelihood of their anchor pulling out.  The breeze rose but a little and no time at all the prophecy was made good and they were all struggling to stay off the quay, lift their anchors and leave.  The one nearest CGIV refused to give up on their anchor, trying to control the situation with further pointless mooring ropes.  They were soon lying across CG’s bows. 

Help was given to them and the others before we decided discretion was the better part of valour and also left after having received the morning’s forecast of SE’ly F5 gusting 6; another mammoth and unpredicted change from the previous evening.

We had suggested the others moor in the new port which they had but we decided to sail up to Sivota Mortos.  It was a spirited and most enjoyable sail in a quite large sea until we were a mile or so from our destination when the wind died away to nothing and the sky filled with dark and ominous looking storm clouds; another soaking whilst mooring up in Sivota Mortos, a not unusual occurrence for us, seemed likely.  However, it was managed without a wetting and we were warmly tucked up in the Bamboo Place before the torrential rain and strong winds got up.  It rained heavily for over four hours.

Being so early in the season it was fairly quiet and having paid €22.00 for the privilege of a night’s stay plus having power and water available, we decided to stay a couple of days and see if the Port Police charged any more.  They didn’t.  Hence, for the record, power was charged at €5.00 per day as was water if you needed it; all in all a quite reasonable cost for a spot with a wifi cafe, two supermarkets, several tavernas, many other shops, a bakers and a hairdressers, which Charlie took advantage of to sort out her now somewhat curlier hair returning with gusto after being decimated by chemotherapy last November.  It was a most relaxing and enjoyable three days spent doing very little.

A desire to return to Corfu Old Town where we had spent many a happy day and evening in years past finally tempted us sufficiently to move on.  We moored under the fort at the N.A.O.C. yacht club that now has power, water, lazy lines and a most helpful and friendly marinero.

There are still some spots where modern day life and prices seem to be passing them by; one of these is Hrysomallis, a really traditional Greek taverna tucked away slap bang in the middle of one of the sheekest spots in Greece, Corfu’s Old Town.  There it sits in all its unimpressive splendour in amongst the Gucci shops and expensive restaurants with their proper tablecloths, silver cutlery justifying their exorbitant prices whilst Hyrsomallis has remained unchanged in all the years we have been coming here, except perhaps for a lick of paint that has appeared on a couple of walls since we here last.

If one is kind the interior is basic, the furniture archaic (or is it historic), even the television stuck up on the ceiling in one corner of the back room looks fifty years old.  The waiter, who is best described as a much older Greek version of Manuel from Fawlty Towers and who we thought was near death in 2004 is still serving, approaching your table with a slightly bowed back and his hands clasped in front of him apparently in due deference whilst smiling inanely showing his heavily worn black and brown teeth, all presumably because he knows the food is equally ancient and largely unimpressive.

The loose local wine is decanted from 1.5l plastic water bottles (heaven knows what it was in before!) into ancient green glass oil bottles now used as decanters via a plastic funnel; that and the washing up is done by the second and rather brusk, if much younger waiter (no more than 60) in full view of the customers.  There is no separate kitchen, it is just a passageway behind the tiddly bar at which the heavily bespectacled aged owner sits, so old he is now incapable of any movement other than exuding the establishment’s inane but welcoming smile on detecting unrecognisable movement somewhere in front of him and pocketing the cash that Manuel passes him from time to time (They have never heard of credit cards here!). 

But we absolutely love it and so do hundreds of others.  The taverna only has about forty covers but even on a cold and wet evening on the 30th of April they were doing the business; two Dutch, three Italians, us and around twenty Greeks all enjoying the inexplicably pleasant and welcoming surroundings.  Don’t get excited about the food though, it’s basic, apart from the Moussaka which is brilliant. We chose chicken in the oven (otherwise known as chicken and chips) and sofrito (oven cooked veal in an onion and garlic sauce, a great Corfiot speciality, normally!) and a huge plate of Xhorta that was perfect.  Watching the two middle-aged Dutch ladies reactions to what they had committed themselves to, started us giggling and after that we just couldn’t stop; everything we looked at seemed funny.  Two Greeks came in, sat down, were given menus with amplification by Manuel, saw the sign apparently requesting ‘no smoking’ and left without eating to an equally bowed and toothy farewell.  The Italians ordered, got and consumed their meal and wine and left in less than 25 minutes whilst we giggled at their eighteen year old son who had never had his dirty blond hair cut since birth and continually threw his head back whilst looking in the wall mirror next to their table to remove it from his face for long enough to place a piece of seriously cremated souvalaki in his long hidden mouth; an MP3 player was well concealed in the filthy matted blond mass.  Our departure was marked by an effusive farewell from both waiter and owner alike; it would seem our previous visits were remembered.  We will be back!

After our delightful supper we wandered up the fifty odd metres to The Liston (the name being a hangover from the time of French occupation we believe) for a couple of drinks, some coffee and to watch Corfiot life promenade up and down its beautiful marble paved streets; if they had not stopped to take coffee themselves that is (see photos).  It was a poignant moment for us, taking us back a few years to when we were taking holidays and sat in the same bar and the same seats discussing how we could do this all the time in our retirement; many hours had thus been spent dreaming of having our own yacht and cruising the Greek islands in to our dotage.  Whilst those dreams were not expected to be realised then they have been now except perhaps the reference to dotage though some might say Richard reached that years ago.

Then it was up to Aghios Stephanou, a further visit to Sivota Mortos, then Lakka and a couple of days more in Gaios before heading further south for a little adventure; for the first time in twenty-five years of sailing past it, a detour into the Gulf of Amvrakikos.  We did not manage to sail the whole way but did manage to sail up the marked channel, past Preveza and on to Vonitsa.  Ashamedly Richard has to admit that he misread the scale of the main chart’s insert covering the gulf, reading the distance from the channel’s outer marks to Vonitsa as around 5nms when it is in fact over 10nms, the scale unusually being half that of the main chart.  Apologising for the pun in advance, we were both taken aback by the ‘scale’ of the Gulf, it being many times larger than we had envisaged.

Vonitsa also proved to be a pleasant surprise despite the fact we had visited it once before by car.  The newish harbour, not covered by our Pilot, is well protected and has mains water laid on and there are no charges.  It lies under the tree-lined bluff that is topped by an old venetian fort and has a recently paved largely pedestrian promenade (see photo).  As mentioned in the last E From Aboard even the food and drink was cheap, less than half per head than we pay elsewhere in the Ionian for similar meals.  We pondered on the possible reasons for that and concluded it was largely through mainly Greek patronage (visiting yachts excepted) and that the tavernas are open all the year round for local trade.  We decided to stay an extra day.

The bikes were extracted from the cockpit locker, assembled and a bike ride planned for the morning.  After our usual morning tea we cycled off along the front and round to a little tree-lined island, Nisos Koukouvitsa connected to the mainland by a beautifully built stone bridge.  It has its own little chapel (see photo) and the feeling of peace it and the island’s isolation generates has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  We spent an hour riding its grassed and dirt pathway, stopping at every vantage point provided by many who had preceded us over the ions of time.  Even the weekend fisherman on its furthermost point (see photo) seemed to be affected by its magic as was Charlie (see photo).

We had high expectations of wildlife sightings as the gulf is supposedly renowned for it.   We covered very little of its expanse but were not disappointed by our sightings of turtles, herons, egrets and even pelicans.  Perhaps the highlight was a new breed of frogs seen in Vonitsa whose night time croaking chorus was amply supported by a plethora of Scop’s owls with their haunting plaintive cry on a bright, almost full, moonlit evening.

 

The Ev’s ‘oliday

Then it was time to receive our guests for the next fortnight, Paul & Jackie Evill, who we picked up on Levkas town quay on Sunday the 10th of May.  The weather for their fortnight was close to perfect and we cruised around all their favourite spots and one new one for us and them, Ormos Sarakiniko on the eastern side of Ithaca.

Jackie arrived with the tail-end of what appeared to have been a particularly nasty cold that had gone to her chest and which she had kindly cleared as being non-infectious by the time they arrived with us.  Unfortunately Paul went down with it, or something similar picked up on the flight over, producing an instant panic in case it resulted in Charlie developing a chest infection in her non-working lung.  A quick phone call to her Specialist Nurse soon put all minds at rest as her response was “Worry not Charlie, you’re allowed to get a cold.  If it doesn’t clear quickly or you feel very unwell, take the amoxicillin you have on board.  Other than that, basic hygiene for all is all you need.”  The advice on hygiene was followed religiously and neither Richard nor Charlie caught it despite the close living on board.

Jackie regularly asks the names of islands we pass during their stays in the Ionian and Richard, more often than not, informs her “That’s Arkoudhi”, and it is!  But she finds that difficult to accept as she sees it most days wherever we have been or are going resulting in her denying its existence until that is we took her to visit it.   That prompted a bit of prose from her for what we call the roundabout because of its position and the fact you always seem to be skirting it.

Said Richard, “I’m no fuddy duddy,

But I think it’s perfectly bloody,

That it gets in the way,

When crossing the bay,

The island the Greeks call Arkudi

After a wonderful sail down the Ithaca Channel to Euphemia and a perfect fillet steak for everybody at Finikas taverna we headed across the southern side of Ithaca heading for Pera Pigadhi.  As there was no wind we fished and on rounding Ak Ay. Ioannis Richard started to retrieve the lines in anticipation of our arrival.  Whilst bringing in the small spinning rod the larger boat rod showed signs of having hooked something.  “Probably a plastic bag” he thought as there was no run or rode movement.  On retrieving that one it soon became clear it was a fish albeit there was not much fight in it, just a dead weight on the end of the line.  We think it was a Barracuda (see photo) but whatever it was it was very tasty and provided four good sized fillets for supper.

Of course we do like to make our guests welcome and comfortable in other ways, even down to having the staff serve their drinks on the foredeck (see photo).

And for the record, temperatures have risen considerably during their stay, reaching a night-time average of over 20°C and a daytime maximum of 30°C plus.  With little wind that can be a bit hot!  Certainly it is above average for mid-May when the expected band is 15-25°C.

All too soon their fortnight was over and we were dropping them back on Levkas town quay.  We believe they had a good time and certainly they looked in much better shape than they had when they arrived or during their first week.  There is nothing like sun, sea and a bit of sailing in idyllic surroundings to restore body and soul.

 

The humour continues

One little bit of humour we forgot to include in the last E From Aboard examples what happens to the brain cells as the ‘wrinkly phase’ of life approaches.  Richard, who reckons he only has two working brain cells left in his vast shoulder topping cavity and that they rarely crash into each other these days to produce a cogent thought, managed to throw the Greek mobile phone away with the rubbish.  He had put it in the side pocket of a bag we use to store rubbish and to take the laptop et al ashore.  It took a lot of head shaking to get the two brain cells to interact before he realised where the phone probably was, by which time loads more rubbish had been added to the enormous roadside bin; fortunately it had not been emptied by the bin men that morning.  Charlie called the phone on our UK mobile whilst Richard hung upside down in the bin searching for the frog he could hear quite clearly; he has the phone’s ring tone set to a frog’s croak as most children do.  The phone was recovered with the assistance of a broom and mop much to amusement of a group of nearby Greeks kids and Richard’s embarrassment.

 

Where now?

We have to be back in Aghios Nikolaos for the end of June and our flight home on the 2nd of July.  As this is written we are still on Meganisi on the 27th of May and just cannot decide where to go next, when to leave the Ionian or which route to take back to our base.  You’ll just have to read the next E From Aboard to find out what we decided upon.

 

E From Aboard 2009/7

It was always a possibility that our planned Spring and early summer trip would be cut short but would it be?

Richard decided that Sunday the 31st of May was Charlie’s official birthday.  After all, the Queen, who has the same actual birthday as Charlie, has an official birthday so why should Charlie not do likewise particularly as each actual birthday celebration for the past few years has been marred either by bad weather, in particular heavy rain, or necessary surgery to keep her poor old body going for a bit longer.  A trip to Big Vathi on Ithaca (as we call it to differentiate from Little Vathi on nearby Meganisi) was called for as was the hiring of a moped for a risky ride over the top of the island’s mountain and down into Stavros for Sunday lunch at Polyphemus.  The moped was hired and after a wobbly few miles a stop made for a couple of pictures to be taken, first of Vathi itself and the adjoining bay of Skhionos (see photo) then of Charlie picking fresh herbs at the roadside (see photo).  The picking was prompted by the overpowering aroma of fresh sage we had picked up the previous day on approaching the island after the morning’s rain.  It was amazing just how far out to sea it could be smelt.

The ride was as exciting and childish as ever with Richard struggling to control the rather erratic fluid clutch, getting the thing round the sharp uphill mountain road bends and avoiding the numerous potholes that seem to occur on every bend just on the line he chose; all this with Charlie clinging to his waste and claiming to be terrified the whole time.  Strange that as it was her idea to do it again in the first place?

It was great lunch as always, taken sitting in the shade of a lemon tree itself under a larger olive tree that showered us and our lunch with the remnants of its Spring blossom every time the gentle breeze wafted through its branches (see photo).  A freshly cooked mousaka for Richard and sea bream and fresh vegetables for Charlie amply washed down by a litre of the local white wine which is fortunately very low in alcohol content.  It was a great day and everything we romantically wished from our trip down memory lane.

Returning the moped to the town shop later that day and picking up our bikes for the ride back to CGIV indicated just how our bodies were unused to such excesses.  Aches and pains occurred where we didn’t know they could happen.  Unfortunately a couple of Charlie’s seemed to be unrelated to the moped ride or our bikes.  By the following morning she was in some discomfort.  The elephant had returned to sit on her chest and there were a couple of inexplicable pains around her heart and good lung.  We were both very worried and not a little frightened.

Charlie’s Specialist Nurse was consulted by phone and it was decided Charlie should return home as quickly as possible to check out the reason or reasons for this sudden decline in her, until then, unexpectedly rude good health.  The day was spent first getting up to Sivota where we knew wifi access was available and secondly planning how her return would be achieved.  The over-winter planning for this eventuality had included the acceptance that if and when this happened Charlie would most likely have to return home alone whilst Richard returned CGIV to Crete.  Naturally it was discussed again but the same decision arrived at and a flight booked from Corfu to Bristol for Friday morning giving us three days to get up to Corfu; ample time in the prevailing and expected weather conditions.

Weather forecasts were checked as part of the planning which indicated we must make our way north on Tuesday whilst the unusual southerly’s continued and because on Wednesday and Thursday strong north-westerly’s were forecast and that would make the trip nigh on impossible.  Thus we decided to put round the southern tip of Levkas (Ak Dhoukato) rather than motor up the inland sea to pass through the canal as the former put us further off the mainland with a better chance of picking up the strong south-westerly breeze.  It turned out as planned albeit the wind force varied from as little as 6knts to as much 25knts and gradually backed to west-south-west.  It was at times a spirited sail at an average speed of 6.3knts.

Charlie had been advised to increase her morphine dosage.  That, the stress of the situation and perhaps the problem yet to be diagnosed had her looking less than well before we even reached Ak Dhoukato.  Rounding the cape and making the desired course put the quite large sea on the port quarter, what we irreverently call an “Evill Special”, that being what happened to them the first time they came out and on their very first day.  The swinging and surging of the yacht’s stern produced the almost inevitable result, seasickness.  And for the first time in her sailing life it did the same for Charlie.  She soon recovered sufficiently to stretch out in the cockpit and slept off and on for the next six hours.  We’re sure it was the increased morphine dosage that was the real cause, not the sea.

Wednesday brought the forecast thunderstorms and rain (in June in the Ionian, whatever next!?) but despite that we made our way up, under sail for most of the way, to Sivota Mourtos.  Inevitably, as we prepared to moor up, it rained.  It seems we are unable to visit this spot without that happening, the only exception that came to mind was our last visit.

Thursday was likened to the last day of our past sailing holidays when we were still working and reluctant for the end to come; added to that were our individual and joint musings over what comes next.  Just how ill is Charlie?  Neither of us could know and despite her outward appearance of being as fit and well as she has been over the past eighteen months, something was not quite right.  Only a check-up would tell us.

We are very much a couple, almost Siamese twins joined at the hip in some folks view.  We would not deny it.  Being separated for a while under normal circumstances we find difficult, in these circumstances there was some regret at perhaps having under estimated our feelings about it in our winter planning. Thursday evening was difficult despite Charlie’s superb culinary efforts to make it otherwise.  Chicken in sage is an old time favourite of Richard’s and that is what she cooked for the evening meal taken on deck overlooked by the majestic, historic and romantic old fort lightened by a faint hue from the red and gold sunset taking place to the west.

Friday morning was worse but it had to be done and Charlie was soon away for the five minute taxi ride to the airport and Richard back to CGIV to start the trip back to Crete.  He had a good beat to windward in fairly light southerly airs (6-12knts of wind) and a calm sea arriving back in Sivota Mourtos at 1730 hrs, Charlie’s arrival time in Bristol where she was kindly picked up by Rod Day and taken home in style.

Maybe this paragraph should not be for E’s From Aboard but that 20nm trip and the evening that followed had Richard wondering whether he wanted to continue the sailing life they had shared together for so long, if and when the inevitable happens that is.  The feelings of loneliness were instantaneous. As his mind wandered depressingly to the future, emptiness and pointlessness swiftly followed.  No pleasure was felt about the almost perfect sail down to Sivota Mourtos.   Ghastly as it seems now, thoughts of selling their beloved yacht percolated through his mind during a solitary dinner at the Blue Coast Taverna.  “I can’t do this either” he thought, referring to eating alone amongst tables occupied by couples and groups many of whom gave him odd looks suggesting their questioning of his presence.  It was Desmond Morris who once said and wrote that man is a social animal and ‘loners’ in a restaurant feel just that and are in fact unwelcome as they are felt to be a potential threat.  Apologies if the quote is less than accurate.

Saturday’s half-hour Skype call brought some cheer back, seeing his girl sitting in her favourite chair in their landing lounge and looking quite well but after the call boredom set in as the wind was totally wrong to continue the trip until Monday at the earliest.  Completing little jobs on CGIV did little to relieve that.  So Saturday was spent in Sivota Mourtos and Sunday morning was again brightened up by a Skype call.

The video aspect of Skype and the fact it is free so time is not an issue, both make a hell of difference and once you get used to waiting for the other party to stop speaking before you start, almost as one does on a radio, then the conversation soon relaxes in to a mode similar to that of sitting in the same room together and holding a normal conversation.  Time just slips by.

Then it was off to Gaios mainly to reduce the mileage on the intended next leg on Monday.  It was a fluky sail but being a light beat it gave Richard a long awaited opportunity to ‘tune’ the wind instruments; for a long time since we had felt they were 5-10° out and that affects how you view the course being made on either tack.  The adjustments seemed settle the tack angle down at 35° on either tack with the possibility of making closer to the wind than that in even lighter airs; we shall see.

Arrival in Gaios convinced Richard it was time to leave the Ionian, as if we didn’t know that before Charlie flew home.  The early evening was dreadful with the constant worry of inexperienced motor and sailing yachts crossing our anchor or ramming the boat.  Add to that the insurgence of numerous power boats with their noisy generators and the words ‘peace’ and ‘quiet’ fade in the memory.

Monday became yet another trauma.  It got off to a great start at 0600 with a sail at 7.5knts in perfect wind to make a 70nm sail to Euphemia but it was cut short by a wind shift after just an hour causing Richard to start the engine and him hearing a whining prop.  “Bearing gone?” He thought.  “Head for Levkas and Joe Charlton.  Damn!”

But superstitious thoughts raised his spirits.  Could this be an omen stopping me from leaving the Ionian?” he wondered.  So the pounding CGIV then took making the 25nms to the canal gate seemed worthwhile.

On mooring up he phoned Joe Charlton’s office for an engineer only to be told it was a Bank Holiday so nobody was working.  “Someone will be there first thing tomorrow morning.”  He was told.  “Another omen?  He wondered.

Levkas was steaming hot despite the by then usual north-westerly streaming across the yacht.  Then the phone rang, it was Charlie.  “All is well darling, I’m coming back!” She gleefully told him.  Her consultant could find nothing wrong from the x-rays or blood tests and felt that she was perhaps marginally better than on the last checks back in February.  “I see no reason why you should not return back out to your boat and we will see you in July for the full scans.  Even if the cancer is advancing, nothing dramatic will happen before then.”  The Consultant’s reassurances and the grin on the Specialist Nurse’s face said it all Charlie said on passing on the news.

After the call Richard was beside himself with pure joy.  Feelings of happiness not felt since the Autumn of 2007 pervaded his mind.  “We will be back out in August.  We will get up to the Dodecanese.  Next Spring and yet another trip up to the Ionion is possible.  Yipeee”

So Charlie is back on board and we are making our way back to Crete as the wind allows and our spirits are high.  Realistically nothing has changed except our expectations; the timescales are moving out, getting longer.  The power of positive thinking?  Who knows.

 

E From Aboard 2009/8

One of the great pleasures of our cruising is the making of new friends from around the world and meeting up with those not seen for perhaps a year or two.  We have been fortunate in the past six years in making many such relationships and keeping them warm in the meantime through letters, e-mails and phone calls.  There were some particularly important friends that we wished to meet up with on our way out of the Ionian if at all possible.

The most important on this occasion were Harry & Denny Watson Smith on Malua (see photo).  They are South Africans from Australia with British passports, a truly cosmopolitan mix if there ever was one.  We spent some time sailing in company with them in 2007 and whilst having not seen them since we had kept in touch.  It was going to be touch and go whether fate would allow us to meet up with them as they were making their way up from Turkey via Athens, then the Ionian en route for the Adriatic and the wonders of Italy.  They had plans to visit Venice and Florence amongst many other spots.

They put in that extra little effort and met us for a lunchtime drink off of Scorpios, Onassis’s island of worldwide repute.  After a swift glass or two, the anchors were raised and  we led the way to Spartahori (Porto Spilia) just a couple of miles away where we moored on Panos and Babis’ taverna’s pontoon for the night, a particular delight for Harry as he needed power having flattened his batteries somewhat in cleaning out his deepfreeze and then re-charging it.  A deepfreeze; some yachties live a life of comparative luxury!

It was a real delight to share adventures with them over supper on the beach and to give them some indication of the delights the northern Ionian holds for knowing visitors, albeit more so in the early weeks of the season than at its height when there are just too many yachts around for it to be totally pleasurable.

We had to leave the following morning whilst they trekked up the hill to Spartahori itself and were then to make their way round by bike to Little Vathi for a late breakfast as we had suggested; it would have been nice to have joined them but we were now under a little pressure to get back to Crete in time for our booked flight home.  Harry whistled and they both waved from the heights of Spartahori as we departed.  We are not very good at “Goodbyes” these days; they seem to have a finality about them that upsets us both.

Before that and leaving Levkas we wanted to see Nigel and Alison from Exmouth.  They are power boat owners but are so nice we can forgive them that.  They have, this Spring, commissioned a brand new, built to spec, Trader and boy is it luxurious.  Even Charlie was making statements like “If we had to have a power boat then this would do me fine”.  Anyway, we did manage to see them albeit briefly, and agreed to meet up back in the Uke, perhaps joining them on their ‘other’ boat that they keep moored in the Dart or popping in when we are in Exmouth seeing other non-sailing buddies.  Sounds good to us!

We had hoped to meet up with Nigel and Sue from Crete who were also up visiting the Ionian in their yacht En Route but unfortunately Sue had gone down with a nasty chest infection.  Still, we can catch up with them back in Aghios Nikolaos.

Whilst in Kapsali on Kithera a very sweet French lady, Annick, approached us and said she remembered seeing us in Crotone in Italy back in 2006; a passing acquaintance that we freely admitted we had not remembered.  However, in the dramas we all had with the weather in Kapsali everyone from the four yachts moored at the time were involved in sorting out the mêlée that developed.  After it was complete and all four were safely (or so we all thought) alongside, her husband Jean-François invited all for a little aperitif on board their yacht Little Big Stone.  It was a very convivial hour spent with two French, three Austrians and two other Brits, Linda and Mark.

The Austrians departed north for Athens the following day whilst the other three yachts, us included, were waiting for the right forecast to run for Crete.  That duly took place early on Tuesday morning, June 23rd and as we sailed down our paths diverged to various different ports; the Brits to Hania, the French to Rethimnon and us to Ormos Milati.  On the Wednesday we moved the 18nms on to Rethimnon to find Annick and Jean-Francois still there.  They had decided to stop for a few days before proceeding on to Aghios Nikolaos where they were to leave their yacht before returning to Paris.  Naturally further drinks were had over lunch with Jean-Francois struggling to understand English and Richard, particularly, trying to scrape out the remnants of his schoolboy French from the bottom of his cranium.  As Annick had spent her working life teaching English literature she had no such problems.  But no matter, when there is a will between kindred folk language is no barrier to a developing friendship.

The Trip Back To Base

The route was easy and one we have covered many times before but we always manage to vary the ports and stopping places.  Our first stop on leaving Kioni and having said a fond farewell to Costas was Killini where they have much improved the facilities for visiting yachts by building a small harbour inside the main ferry port conveniently supplied with power and water.  Our supper there was a lonely one, on the main street and where, in a mainly Greek tourist spot, we would reasonably have expected it to be busy; it was not, just us and three others and the taverna next door had nobody.  We really felt for them.

Next it was Kiparissia where extensive, if inappropriate and incomplete, improvements have been made turning it from a nigh on useless exposed harbour into one that is now safe in most conditions.  Whilst the mooring bollards and eyes are better suited to super-tankers it is still worth a look even if only to break the 50nm leg between Katacolon and Pilos.

After that and because we needed fuel it was Pilos and the tanker man was so efficient he was actually alongside us before we had finished mooring up so must have been watching from the town with his binoculars.

Next was an all time favourite, Methoni, where we anchored off for two days and nights before the forecast weather forced us to push on.  Not that it was a bad forecast in fact the exact opposite.  If it was right it would see us safely on to Cretan shores and still allow us a two night stop in Kapsali another of our favourites.

But first we had to make it round Ak Tainaron otherwise known as ‘Matapan’ some 50nms down track and generally a bit of a challenge; this time it wasn’t as the forecast wind was from the west and as that did not materialise at the forecast strength we unfortunately had to motor the whole way.  But, as usual, on rounding the cape and headed up the 3nms to Porto Kayiou the wind increased to its usual F5-6 and blew like that for most of the night.  Porto Kayiou is a strange and extremely desolate place (see photo) right at the southern end of an equally desolate peninsula.  But people live and survive there and folk drive down from northern Europe in camper vans to holiday there; never more than three or four at a time mind.

The sail down to Kapsali was perfect though by the time we arrived it was blowing a bit harder in the harbour than we would have liked.  We initially moored stern-to as that is how the three incumbents had moored but Richard was decidedly unhappy about it in the fairly strong beam breeze.  Having checked his medium-term forecast and having asked Rod for an update by phone (before finding out there is now wifi in Kapsali) he decided it was not on.  The wind was due to rise to F7 and that would mean drama probably during the night so the lines were slipped, the anchor raised and preparations made for a return to the same spot but alongside.  Charlie was dubious to put it mildly.

There was a fishing boat moored to leeward with a restraining anchor out forward; to windward the other British yacht was still stern-to.  The space between them was little more than CGIV’s 14 metre length, the approach from leeward blocked by shallows and the fisherman’s anchor warp; the wind was blowing around F5/6.  The approach was necessarily fast and almost at right angles to the quay.  Mark and Linda saw CGIV coming at the last minute and did not think she would stop before either ploughing into the quay or their starboard side.  She did stop with her bows alongside right by their stern.  A couple of shunts in forward and reverse put all her length alongside and Charlie soon had the lines ashore.

Richard had earned himself a few brownie points for boat handling and a comment of “I’m so proud of you” from Charlie.  That manoeuvre prompted a request from Linda for help in laying them alongside without lifting their anchor, generally considered an inevitable way of damaging your hull.  Richard had seen it done by several experienced skippers over the years and enjoyed showing-off his thus acquired skills by directing the manoeuvre without any damaging consequences (more brownie points!).

All seemed well but we had not allowed for the perverse influence of Aeolus who during the next day turned the wind sufficiently to put an ever-increasing swell into the harbour.  By evening time and with an early departure due in the morning it seemed evident to both Richard and Charlie that no sleep would be possible with the violent lurching and graunching the swell was creating let alone the serious risk of hull damage.  After a leisurely supper ashore Richard was going to have to get CGIV back out of the same tight space with a two metre swell running down the quay and a good F6 now blowing her onto the quay, not off it.

The routine was carefully thought through and knowing the dangers of third party involvement in such precarious manoeuvres, offers of assistance declined.  Charlie knows the routine of stern-springing well but with us lying portside-to and Richard unwilling to leave the helm and throttle controls in the circumstances, she was also needed to release the stern line after the bows were swung clear.  That was calmly done and in no time we were safely at anchor in the bay as the last glimmer of light was lost from the sky.  The comment this time, with a cuddle, was “You’re my hero”.  As if his bloody head wasn’t big enough already Charlie; for heaven’s sake, rose tinted glasses or what?

The expectation for the trip from Kapsali was a spirited sail.  The forecast was for a SW’ly F5-6 and following the overnight F7 (near gale) the sea was going to be heavy going.  The anchor was raised at 0615 and departure achieved at 0630 after Richard had stupidly put the winch handle on the toe rail whilst removing enormous quantities of fine weed from the anchor chain as it came up.  Of course it went over the side and down to Davey Jones’ locker “Deduct a couple of those hard-earned brownie points” he thought.

With a south-westerly wind, Gramvousa was ruled out as a target for the day and Hania some 63nms distant thought the most likely destination.  If good progress was made Ormos Milati was a more desirable option but 76nms distant and even Rethimno possible albeit a daunting 87nms away.

Life jackets and harnesses were donned and off we went only to find the sea was huge but the wind close to non-existent.  Thus the first 40nms or so were motored until the wind lifted to the top end of F4 and proper sailing made possible.  The wind was sufficiently on the starboard quarter to make reaching possible rather than running down wind.  Good progress was maintained and so Ormos Milati became our target for sure.  Surprisingly we were able to sail all the way round the Akrotiri peninsula with our course steadily moving round from the 125° we had been steering all day to the 270° needed to enter the bay; almost unbelievable as the prevailing wind was WSW but was still on our stern as we prepared to anchor!

A very peaceful and pleasant night was spent in this silver-sand bottomed bay admiring the quiet and low key onshore facilities for visitors and the large gathering of various breeds of geese that live on the shore (see photo) whilst musing on a very easy trip back from the Ionian to Crete and hoping the last 100nms or so would be just as easy.

As we took our tea the following morning the breeze had freshened somewhat and was forecast to be a good F6.  We decided to run the 18nms across to Rethymno and perhaps stop there for a couple of nights.  That is what we did and thoroughly enjoyed the town, its old cobbled streets and its more modern seafront with the modern well stocked supermarkets.  The butcher just off the new square provided us with some excellent produce; ‘scrag end’ lamb chops, an enormous pork chop and some very nice filet kotopoulo (chicken breast).  The lamb chops were converted into a very nice onion and wine based stew pot with a touch of chilli for consumption at anchor off Spinalonga whilst the chicken and pork were saved for the expected Sunday BBQ on our arrival back in Aghios Nikolaos.

The leg to Nisos Dhia started off under motor but soon the wind increased sufficiently for a goose-winged down wind or broad reach sail.  The two were alternated to keep us a good four miles offshore and in the wind.   As we approached Dhia the wind increased as expected as it funnelled between Dhia and the nearby mainland.  Under full sail the speed increased dramatically as did the difficulty in handling CGIV.  Speeds of over 10kts became more common than not but fortunately the turn into our intended anchorage bay gave us plenty off lee to safely and quickly drop the sails.

It was a windy evening and night but a romantic one nonetheless in this most isolated of spots.  But we were not to be alone as the bay is frequented by local fishermen and two of them had anchored off our bow for the night.  We presumed that one of them built the little shack that has appeared since our last visit (see photo).

As we have said before the island is a bird paradise and whilst most of them appear to be seagulls with their constant squawking and screaming it is a most peaceful of places and the view across to the mainland enchanting with its ever changing sky (see photo).  All the white and grey dots in the photo are seagulls!

The following morning we set off with some trepidation as the sea was still running high past the entrance to the bay.  We need not have worried as the wind was fair and the trip down to the next hurdle, rounding Ak Ay. Ioannis, was as easy and enjoyable a sail as it can be; rounding the cape was a total none event.

We anchored in our usual spot in Spinalonga and had a most romantic evening demolishing the lamb casserole that Richard had produced on the way there.  There was a lot of talk about how successful the four month trip had been and how we both thought it would be terminated early by Charlie’s health.  Reflection on the unfairness of our position in that regard was tempered by knowing just how lucky we are to be able to do what we do.  Most other folk in such circumstances would not be able to cruise the Greek islands at their leisure, soaking up the sunshine and wonderful laid back Greek attitude to life.

Aeolus continued his kindness on Sunday morning by providing a light vesper for us to drift down to Aghios Nikolaos under sail; not the whole way but a good half of the distance.  It could not have been better.

We were greeted by Tony from Little Round Top whose berth is alongside ours and who helped us moor up.  As our berth had been occupied in our absence he had kindly emptied out the water, cleaned and polished the bottom, re-filled it with fresh water and polished the surface of that; or so he told us?

We caught up with all the gossip and met the new marina manager George at the usual Sunday BBQ.  We also ate far too much, including the enormous pork chop and chicken souvalaki as well as ample helpings of Tessa’s banana cake.  So when it came to thinking about supper we decided it was not needed and went for an evening stroll round the town.  As we passed through Corto Maltese’s outside seating we were spotted by the owner who put down his tray and rushed over to greet us.  After asking how Charlie was he invited us to stay “let me find you a nice table, it is our celebration evening for the third anniversary of our opening?”  We politely declined explaining we had already eaten far too much at the BBQ.  “never mind” he replied “enjoy your stroll and stop in for a glass of wine on your way back”.  How could we refuse?

We had our stroll and returned to be placed on a table near to the duo who were to provide music for the evening; a mixture of jazz, reggae, pop and a little rock.  The atmosphere was one of calm and as we supped our glass of wine the restaurant (outside of course) filled up with mainly local Greeks (see photo).  Charlie felt decidedly under-dressed.  As the music began our host repeated his invitation for food, “perhaps a little mezze or some salad perhaps.  It is all buffet style tonight.  Please have what you like”.  We felt obliged to have something and of course we did and enjoyed it immensely.

As 11pm approached our bed beckoned so Richard asked for the bill.  “No” we were told, “you are my guests.  There is no charge tonight”.  We felt honoured and very special without quite understanding why.  We had already decided to dine there on our last evening, Wednesday, and a promise was given of, “Of course.  I shall prepare a special table for you”.  And he did.

So that is about it for this trip except for a last photo of Charlie tending her garden (see photo), a daily task and for those who wonder, they have their special stowage spaces down below whilst we are at sea and are only allowed on deck when in port or at anchor, much to the amusement and pleasure of many a passer-by.

And perhaps a mention of the wildlife we have enjoyed recently, more detail on which may come in a later “E”.  A bat resting in our furled genoa, several turtles in harbours and out at sea, more dolphins thankfully, learning the Greek name for a Scops owl – O Koukoz, and coming face to face with a crocodile or two in a bar in Corfu.  That’s the one that might make you log on again?

We are both ready to go home; to see the family and our UK based friends and of course, to enjoy our lovely home.  We are optimistic about the further scans and tests Charlie has to endure so have booked our flight back out for the 18th of August and home again on the 26th of October.  There is nothing like the power of positive thinking, is there?

When we know the results of the tests we shall put up a further E From Aboard.

Thank you for reading the scribblings of a dotty bloke – there will be more again soon.

 

E From Aboard 2009/9

28th July 2009

We returned early this month from a most enjoyable four month voyage around some of our favourite areas in the Mediterranean having set off in March with a realistic expectation that Charlie’s condition was likely to deteriorate requiring us to return home earlier than hoped.  That was not the case and we were lucky enough to cover all the spots we wished to plus a few new and exciting places we hadn’t thought of.

However, since we arrived home on the 2nd of July Charlie has been in additional discomfort in a new area of her abdomen and we had little doubt it was an indication that the cancer was again on the move.  On Monday the 27th July that was confirmed by her consultant.

We are of course disturbed and upset by that news but comforted by the fact that its progress seems fairly limited; a new nodule around the point where her bronchia divide into each lung, regrettably towards her good lung, plus three or four smaller nodules at the base of that lung.  As this is written it is unclear whether these are inside or outside the lung.

The good news is that, as Charlie has remained so well since the last palliative treatment was completed last October and more than six months has elapsed, further palliative chemotherapy is an option and she has signed up for that; it starts on Thursday the 6th of August.  In the meantime additional drugs are effectively managing her discomfort.

Six sessions are planned at three week intervals though progress will be checked, as before, after three.  We are naturally optimistic about the outcome and hope it will result in another nine months of stability though this optimism is tempered by the knowledge that even the consultant was surprised by the positive affect of last year’s chemotherapy; much as we would like to, we cannot ignore the fact that this is a virulent and incurable cancer.

Thus we shall not be returning out to the yacht as planned on the 18th of August but have rebooked it for the 11th of October so we can catch a few last rays of sunshine, see all our marina friends returning from their summer cruises and put our girl to bed for the winter before returning home on the 26th of October as originally planned.

Charlie’s middle sister conveniently retired to her villa that is within sight of the Pyrenees in a beautiful rural area of southern France and is very keen for us to visit her again.  So a week has been planned in September which will hopefully allow us to enjoy not only her warmer climes but some of the excellent cuisine and wine we sampled on a similar trip last September.

All this is dependent on the treatment going according to plan and Charlie coping with the chemotherapy as well as she has done previously.  Spirits are a little low at present but will recover especially as our confidence in our medical team’s ability to further extend the time left remains high, thus we hope for a successful outcome from the chemo so we can start planning another voyage for next Spring!

Lighter leftovers from our four month voyage

Our unusual experiences continued this Spring and early summer with the findings of some droppings on the fore deck.  Thoughts of a rat on board brought immediate dismay as they can be an absolute pain to catch or evict.  They were cleared up one morning before motoring off to a nearby favourite bay to anchor for lunch and await the afternoon breeze.  When the breeze came in, the anchor was lifted, the mainsail raised and the genoa unfurled.  As the genoa unfurled what looked like a furry rodent dropped out of one of the rolls onto the foredeck with quite a bump.  Before either of us could think about what to do with a rat on the foredeck it took off and flew away.  It was a bat!

Whilst taking coffee in a kantina overlooking Corfu old town’s old fort we spotted a reptile sitting under a tree and warming itself in the morning rays of sunshine.  It raised its head in quite an aggressive manner (which we have since learnt is the male’s courting behaviour) and waved in our direction.  It was a crocodile!  Fortunately not the size of those found in the everglades or in Africa but a sub-species found only in Corfu called Agama Stellios.  The one we saw was larger than the one pictured (it would be wouldn’t it?) and quite fascinating.

Starred Agama (Laudakia stellio)

As reported earlier in the season we saw more dolphins in the Aegean than we have seen for many years though practically none in the Ionian  That perhaps is an indication of the relative amounts of food available to them and the intensity of the fishing.

Turtles are endangered; we know that.  We also know they breed in and around Zakinthos and efforts are made there to protect their breeding grounds (beaches); a pretty hopeless task on an island that depends on tourists but at least they ban visiting boats from the bays involved.  However, this year we have seen many more turtles than in previous years, particularly in harbours!  Kiparissia, Kapsali and Monemvasia to name but three as well as several out at sea the last being just off Rethimno on the northern Cretan coast and a heavily barnacled old fellow he was too.

Finally on the wildlife front, one of favourite sounds is the plaintive call of the Scops owl, a small owl that is found widely in Greek waters particularly on wooded hillsides and there are plenty of those.  We had always wanted to know what its Greek name was.  On our way back to Crete in June we stopped off in Pilos and chose a different taverna to our usual one, O Koukos.  On noticing a print of a carving that looked like an owl we asked the English speaking waitress what it was and she smilingly informed us it was a Scops owl, O Koukos in Greek.

We have tried for years to get close enough to one to take a photo but have never even got close enough to see one let alone photograph it so if you want to see what these cute little birds look like, type ‘Scops Owl photos’ into Google and have a look.

That’s your lot for now.  We will post an update on progress and what else we get up to over the  next month or so.

 

E From Aboard 2009/10

The end of September has passed and what a wonderful month we had.  Charlie’s treatment has gone well, so well that even she sometimes wonders whether they forgot to put any of those nasty poisonous chemotherapy drugs in the fluids and pills they administer at three-weekly intervals as her side effects have been close to non-existent; even her hair has, so far, fallen out to a lesser extent than previously: to top that she feels better than during July and August and looks the picture of health.

 

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Apart from that and for those who like the gory details, the CT scan on the 5th of October implied the chemo had stabilised the cancer; not as good as reducing it but better than no affect at all.  Yes, she has a croaky voice a lot of the time as well as an irritating intermittent pain in her left side and her legs ache a lot of the time.  As these symptoms ring alarm bells for oncologists, ten x-rays were done after seeing the consultant on the 8th and another bone scan will probably be done on our return in November partly depending on what analysis of the x-rays tells her and the radiologist.  They are unsure of the cause but nonetheless gave their blessing to our trip out to Our Girl on Crete albeit with a caveat that if the symptoms worsen we should return home early.  So, all in all things could not be much better.

During September we repeated our trip of last year out to her sister’s villa in the south of France, close to the Pyrenees.  What a week it was.  The weather was absolutely perfect and whilst we were there one of the wine-producing villages, Aidie, put on a festival day involving a walk round several of the vineyards and their respective farmhouses during which talks were given on the process of wine production. 

Stopping at the first farmhouse we were plied with Foie Gras on slices of, naturally, French bread and were forced into tasting a whole variety of wines. Buckets were provided for those who wished to spit out the wine but we declined the invitation to be so wasteful as did most of the local French folk.  At the next farmhouse we were introduced to a herd of beef cattle developed and bred in the area to bolster farm incomes.  It seemed a little odd but we were to get the point a little later on after a stand-up breakfast of local produce; fried ham and eggs with a tomato and red pepper sauce, again accompanied by a selection of that vineyard’s wines (see photo “Breakfast on the farm”).  We had to leave the walk at that point as Charlie’s Achilles tendon was playing up (a side effect of the antibiotics prescribed with the chemo, not the chemo itself) and she was struggling to walk at all.  But we rejoined the 150 other folk for lunch at around 2pm and sat down to a sumptuous feast of cold tomato soup (local produce of course), followed by the most enormous hunk of mouth-watering barbequed rib of beef served as would be a fillet steak, blue almost raw, accompanied by a local white bean dish.  As if this was not enough and it was, they then served up a plate of three local cheeses with further hunks of the local bread and then a delightful sorbet sweet made from a local fortified wine, helped along with a slice of chocolate sponge.   The arrival of coffee was a relief as it indicated no further food was to be served but it did not stop the selection of wines that were brought to the table throughout the meal.  All this was prepared, cooked and served by the local vineyard owners and their families and cost a mere €20.00 a head.  Magnificent value and such fun even if we didn’t understand much of the various talks and they were so welcoming to us Brits who made up about a third of those present.

The rest of the week seemed to be a prelude or sequel to that feast and a lot of fun was had.  We returned home resolved to diet!

The weather in Devon during July was poor, in August appalling but in September, perfect.  Despite the weather the garden was almost entirely changed during July and August, ripping out timber framed walkways almost totally hidden by ten years of growth of various clematis, honeysuckle, solarnum and perennial sweet peas et al.  During our six summers of sailing little had been done other than a little trimming here and there by our gardener Rose keeping an eye on things in our absence and controlling the infestation of tigers and other wildlife.  Thus during September we were able to sit in the garden and enjoy our progress so far and imagine how it will all look next summer as the planting spreads and develops.  That, the chopping up for logs of all the timber, extending the log store and adding a couple of loads of logs from our usual supplier filled Richard’s time and kept both minds off of other things.  It was great therapy and lifted morale no end.

So, once this missive is finished and popped off to Rod down the road, we shall be off to Crete for a couple of weeks.  It is hoped a few local sails might be achieved before we prepare Our Girl for her winter sleep.  If not we shall just enjoy the company of our marina colleagues and the produce of the local bars and tavernas before returning home on the 26th for the fifth of six chemo sessions on the 29th.

 

E From Aboard 2009/11

For those who are only interested in how Charlie is, go straight to the end where a synopsis of the past few months happenings and the current position is laid out.

To Winterise Our Girl

The journey out to Aghios Nikolaos on the 11th of October was smooth, trouble free, ahead of scheduled time and our arrival greeted with a perfect warm sunny day with a very light cooling breeze.  What more could we ask. 

However, the attitude of most of those sitting around the barbeque tables on our arrival at the marina was appalling.  Granted we were unknown to many of them but the general attitude did not example the spirit of friendship normally present at that gathering and it had us wondering if we had ever been so dismissive of newcomers at past barbeques.  After a glass of wine and a brief chat with those who knew us well we made our excuses (we had no food to cook anyway) and left; Richard was feeling particularly stressed and distressed by the experience and found it difficult to have a conversation with anyone.  A quiet lunch at Sirocco and our usual afternoon zizz did little to improve our mood.

At bedtime we were still very low in spirit and still at a loss to explain why; clearly it was not just the unpleasant experience at the barbeque.  As our sleep deprivation receded the next morning and we felt more human we reached the conclusion that we had underestimated the stresses of the past few months and that getting over-tired through the journey (we had got up at 03.30am) followed by the barbeque experience had brought all that to the surface.  We decided to just sit on the marina for the two weeks, soak up the early autumn weather and atmosphere and chill out as if we were on a traditional holiday rather than pack as much into every day as we would usually do.  The idea of setting off on an albeit short Autumn voyage was abandoned.

For a couple of days we kept ourselves to ourselves and slowly but surely our spirits rose undoubtedly assisted by a romantic supper taken at Ela’s overlooking the marina and Ormos Merambellou and a few daytime coffees and glasses of wine imbibed at our favourite bar overlooking the lake, Almira Limin in the centre of Aghios.

Much talking was done, exploring our individual feelings about our depression and why it had occurred.  Neither of us are clever enough to work it out for sure but there is no doubt that talking about it together hour after hour did eventually result in our more normal positive and upbeat attitude returning.  Yes, “it” was still very much with us and yes “it” was going to have its way with Charlie in the end but not yet.  Already it looked as if she was going to exceed her consultant’s idea of how long she had; ironically Christmas 2009 was the projection.  And again we reminded ourselves just how lucky we are.  We have lived more in our thirty-five years together than most people could ever hope for in a dozen lifetimes and we are fortunate enough to be able to do practically anything we desire during the time that is left to us.  Even the fact that we were sitting in perfect sunshine in a temperature of 25°C at the end of October whilst we could have been trapped at home in the pouring rain emphasised the truth of that.  Things are not so bad.

A daily routine soon developed.  Up with the sun at around 07.00, two mugs of tea on deck sheltering Charlie from the power of the sun as she was still in chemo whilst she read a few more chapters of her latest book and Richard honed the edges of his two remaining brain cells with the help of a couple of Sudoku puzzles, all followed by a bowl of cereal for breakfast.  Then a couple of hours of ‘work’; removing sails, bagging them, polishing winches and covering them up and a myriad of other tasks that have to be done before beaching Our Girl for the winter.  Then off into town for a bit of shopping, coffee, wine and a chat; after all we cannot let ‘work’ interfere for too long with a day’s enjoyment.  Lunch on deck, an afternoon zizz, sundowners on deck and, most evenings, taking supper ashore as neither of us felt much like cooking.

Detailed examination of the mainsail during this process found it to still be in good order and fit for another season or two whereas the genoa was definitely well passed its best.  It was going to have to be replaced if we were to go sailing again in 2010.  Of course that raised the question of whether we would be able to do so and we can have no idea on that until after this round of chemotherapy is completed and found to have given “it” a good clout round the ear.  We already know that each successive round of chemo is less likely to be as effective as the previous one and as we also know the chemo cannot ‘kill’ “it”, the best we can hope for is a another period when “it” does not advance appreciably.  Ordering a new genoa will have to await scan results in December and possibly into the New Year.

On a lighter note, during our morning chats over coffee we reflected on how much more expensive Greece has become and that is before taking the fall of the pound against the euro into account.  A couple of large coffees in Costa Coffee at home costs around £4.50, here it is now costing us up to €6.00 (at best £5.40 at the current exchange rate) for two much smaller cups; a couple of years ago it was half that.  The cost of eating out has also risen though not quite as much.

The camera hardly got out of its bag so no photos were taken during our trip, a fact we also reflected on as we prepared to go home.

As the final days approached the forecast deteriorated.  We had deliberately left the bimini and sprayhood in place to provide shade for Charlie and intended to whip them off smartly on the last morning at some stage during the lifting-out process.  That was thwarted by the most horrendous of storms on our last night.  It wasn’t particularly windy but the rain was of biblical proportions and thus both they and all the carefully washed and dried warps were absolutely sodden.  Fortunately it eased off in time for us to leave our berth at 08.45 and drift round to the lifting dock for our 09.00 appointment with Roussos and his travel lift.  As was expected he was late, after all this is Greece, so we strolled into town for a final coffee before returning to check he had power-washed to hull effectively and Our Girl was in her place.  Well he had washed Her and She was in position but not yet chocked up, so off we went to the airport courtesy of Tony who kindly drove us there.

The journey home on the 26th was as easy and stress free as the journey out, in fact we caught a train an hour earlier than planned from Gatwick to Reading but unfortunately had to wait for our booked train from there to Newton Abbot or pay a £100 excess, each.  We didn’t fancy that so had a glass of wine instead.

 

Madeira

The fifth session of chemotherapy went without a hitch on the 29th of October after which we felt a little at a loose end particularly as Rod & Pat Day were out on their yacht in Levkas.  Hence Richard started surfing the net looking for a short break.  On reaching Exeter Airport’s site he was met by a ‘latest offer’ of a trip to Madeira, an island we have never visited but which Richard, remembering his parents memories of their trip out there on an early cruise type holiday back in the 1930’s, had always fancied.  It took a few days to finalise details and eventually we booked a flight and hotel separately on a B&B basis so we could be a little more certain of the standard of hotel and its location.

We had to get up a bit early the 9th of November, 04.30 but then had a leisurely bath before driving the twenty minutes to Exeter airport where the car was picked up from us outside departures at 06.00.  With tickets collected from an agent there and after a triple B (Bad Boys’ Breakfast) we boarded our 08.20 flight and ordered our usual bottle of champagne in celebration; in celebration of quite what we do not know but that has become our custom on most flights.

The flight arrived in Funchal very early thanks to an early departure and a strongish tail wind which saw us booking in at the Quinta Do Sol hotel before midday.  We felt we had gained an extra day’s holiday.

The sun was out, there was a light breeze wafting gently through the hotel’s pool area reducing the effect of the still powerful sun and the ambient temperature of 25°.  After a lazy lunch by the pool and a good couple of hours zizz, we walked down into the town passed the main harbour with its array of large and small cruise liners and a small marina full of yachts.  We noticed with some surprise the amount of swell in the marina evident from their lurching and swaying and promptly crossed Funchal off our list of ports to be visited.

We were awestruck by the general sophistication of Funchal.  Most of the pavements were terrazzo paved as were many of the pedestrianised main streets.  Every bit of available open ground seem to have a highly cultivated park full to the brim with semi-tropical plants and trees and with strategically placed paths wending their way between them and the numerous fountains, ponds or small lakes.  We were to learn later that water is one resource that is never in short supply on this island.

Within the centre even the everyday shops such as supermarkets have been constructed below ground and behind the facade of the beautifully preserved and restored older buildings, most of which date from after the devastating earthquake of 1755.  That facet of their careful planning added enormously to our daily pleasure of taking coffee on the street whilst people watching.

One early observation from that was the stark difference between the locals here and Greece as they go about their daily business.  The Madeirans have a quiet urgency about their progress and there are many more suits and ties around.  They stop for coffee, yes, but briefly or hold their meetings over coffee, but swiftly.  The Greeks take coffee as part of their leisurely lifestyle and it is a prolonged process with little but football or politics discussed in a random observational way.  Also the nature of their dress in Madeira suggests a wealthy and strong economy and history, though having said that we did see destitute, poorly dressed and generally drunk beggars wandering from bar to bar with their hands out and a surprisingly good grasp of English with which to impart their all too familiar tales of woe.  Whilst English appears to be the second and strong language of most folk here, perhaps their social security system is not so strong?

The Greeks attitude to begging in every form it takes is generally tolerant.  Most ordinary Greeks will contribute something in answer to each and every request whilst the wealthy Greeks seem much less likely to do so.  In Madeira the general attitude is one of intolerance, violence even.  We witnessed such behaviour from one of the restaurateurs where we were eating one evening.  Whilst we were glad he wished to stop the poor fellow from approaching us, again, we felt his demonstrable violence was perhaps not justified or necessary.

Wine and coffee is cheaper here than in Greece or at home as is the restaurant food.  Comparing like qualities and standards of restaurant we felt the average cost of a meal was half what we pay at home and the standard is generally good and the menus interesting and varied.  They do major on fish though and one fish in particular, variously named as Cutlass fish or Scabbard fish, its proper Madeiran name being Espada (see photo).  As can be seen from the photo it is not an attractive fish but its flesh is extremely tasty and quite delicate.  The process for catching it also quite amazing as it is a deep water fish.  Evidently it can take up to two hours to lower the fishing tackle down to their depth and even longer to retrieve the catch; certainly a full day’s work for the local fishermen and their relatively small inshore fishing boats.

One of the highlights of our week was visiting Blandys who are world famous for their Madeiran wines (see photo).  The old buildings, once a convent, are still very much in their original condition with much of the timbers, presumably oak, still being in place as are the cobbled floors.  We had no idea of just how much variation there could be and is on ‘Madeira’, from sweet to dry and way beyond that.  In fact to us it seemed there were more variations available than there are French wines.  You can imagine it took us a long time to decide what to buy and take home.  We settled on three bottles which they kindly arrange to be picked up by us once we had passed through customs and the security checks at the airport thereby circumventing the airline hand baggage allowances and the liquids limitations.

Returning to the weather, the climate is sub-tropical thus there are no seasons as we would understand them.  The daylight hours do vary from summer to winter but the ambient temperatures vary little ranging from an average maximum of 20-27° and minimum of 15-20° so even  a holiday in January or February is a possibility though it just might rain on you and, boy oh boy, when it rains, it rains.  Fortunately for us that was only on one day but more of that in a minute.

Just a few years ago they installed a cable car run up from the harbour area, near the bus station, to Monte, a village area that historically was the retreat of the wealthy from the hustle, bustle and heat of central Funchal.  It was from here that Richard’s parents took the historic wicker-work sled ride back down into Funchal.  Unfortunately that is now both cut short at just 2kms not 10kms and runs (or nearly doesn’t!) on newly tarmac surfaced roads that used to be cobbled; a stop midway was necessary for them to grease the runners.  Nonetheless we partook of this ancient tourist attraction much to Richard’s amusement and Charlie’s terror.

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Charlie was also reticent about the cable car but pleasantly surprised by the smooth ride it provided and the panoramic view of Funchal that spread out before her as the car rose to thirty metres or so above the ground.

At Monte we took coffee then tackled the tropical gardens.  They were designed and built by one of the island’s successful and thus wealthy residents who brought in plants, trees and sculpture for all over the world.  Richard was concerned about the walk around the gardens as it involved a drop of several hundred metres and thus a climb back up of a similar amount to reach either the cable car or the sled run.  He needn’t have worried; Charlie was up to the task and somewhat surprisingly managed it with consummate ease.  In fact the whole week involved a lot of walking, much of it on hilly ground but the only difficulty arose from her feet blistering which, of course, Richard blamed on ‘stupid, impractical women’s shoes’ where as it was in fact yet another side effect from chemotherapy.  The net result was a considerable improvement in our physical fitness.

When blisters, old age (Richard according to Charlie), tiredness or laziness kicked in, we took a bus and what an experience that turned out to be.  We are used to the surprisingly good Greek bus services; elegant well kept coaches driven by careful drivers at sensible speeds arriving and departing at precise timetabled times.  Madeira is a little different.  The busses are numerous if basic.  The operating system is sophisticated in that most bus stops have computerised digital displays advising you of when every passing bus is due; unfortunately the drivers seem to see this as a challenge to be beaten so most busses arrive and depart early by as much five minutes.  Their next challenge seems to be to throw as many passengers as they can out of their seats or off their feet by accelerating as fast as they can, braking as hard as they can and taking all corners and roundabouts at speeds that threaten the busses’ stability and terrify visiting passengers.  But we laughed and wondered each time we pressed the bell button requesting a stop whether the driver would actually stop in time; they always did but we often ended up at the wrong end of the bus as a result.  What fun.

Our trip home after a week here was nearly disrupted by the weather as the airport is precariously placed alongside the mountainous terrain and easily shut down by low cloud or strong winds.  The former and torrential rain was our threat.  Despite nearly an hour’s delay in departure, our arrival at Exeter was on time.  The arrival of our car within minutes of our arrival concluded a perfect week away.  This was going to be difficult to top!

 

European Christmas Markets

Charlie’s present to Richard for his birthday in November 2007 was a trip to the recently renovated St Pancras station and a day trip to Lisle on the then newly started Eurostar service.  But the discovery of ‘it’ and the resultant treatment programme meant the latter part was not achievable and was still outstanding for delivery.  Bob, Richard’s brother, and his wife Ann had mentioned their visits to European Christmas markets on several occasions; in fact they go every year.  The idea appealed greatly to us and on reading the Sunday newspaper Charlie spotted a Great Railway Journeys’ advert that combined the two.

After a bit of research on the various routes and locations we decided to try the trip to Liege and its markets that included trips to the markets in Aachen across the border in Germany and Valgenburg in the Netherlands.  Travel included Eurostar to Brussels and was first class including complimentary drinks and meals, there and back.

We travelled up to London the day before and stayed with Charlie’s eldest sister Vicky in Chiswick and Vicky kindly drove us the six miles to St Pancras the following morning to join the other twenty-six members of our group and the tour guide John; the journey took an hour in the morning traffic.  We were very reticent about the trip as we had previously said we would never again go on an organised tour or holiday.  But there was an ulterior motive.  We still wished to visit Norway, particularly its fjords and had  abandoned the idea of doing it on a cruise because of the risks and the cost of insuring Charlie; that alone could amount to as much as the whole cruise cost for us both!

Richard, being a bit of an anorak about trains, was excited as big kid both at the prospect of travelling on Eurostar and again visiting what he considers is one of the best examples of tasteful and skilled renovation and modernisation of an historical building he has ever seen; St Pancras station that is.

The train was as comfortable and smooth as one might expect though it did seem a little odd to find that many of the 1st class seats were laid out in aircraft seat fashion which inevitably limits one’s view.  We were lucky in being booked on the more open ‘four seats around a table’ format though Richard’s ability to enjoy the rapidly passing countryside and railwayiana was severely curtailed by our over-friendly travelling companions, the male member of which talked incessantly the whole way to Brussels.

The complimentary food was quite acceptable albeit a close relative of the archetypal aircraft cooked breakfast of omelette, bacon and sausage, and the wine selection quite adequate with an option of red, rosé, white or good French champagne.  That and the seating design is yet another example of how train travel is slowly but surely becoming as cramped as air travel, the only remaining advantage being that it is easier to walk up and down a train than an aircraft.  But we did have half decent metal cutlery to eat with, glass glasses to drink from and china cups from which to sup our coffee.

We switched trains at Brussels for the one hour trip on to Liege in a more traditional 1st class intercity train and it was at Liege that the first dramatic and enjoyable surprise occurred that even had Charlie suitably awestruck; its station is an exceptionally modern if still to be finally completed, architecturally brilliant engineering design.  The photos are actually of the cad video that runs continuously on screens in the concourse as it just was not possible to get far enough away from the station to take a portfolio of pictures that would do it justice in less than a couple of hours.  The whole development is huge and encompasses the surrounding main roads and their over bridges as well as the planned lakes and bus station.

A coach took us the 2kms to our four star hotel that frankly wasn’t.  The room was fine if a little tired and for an hotel whose residents were 90% British we were astounded to find that only Japanese tea bags were provided in the rooms.  The service at breakfast was consistently appalling and on the last evening the bar had no vodka at the beginning of service and the barman was not prepared to get any from the store until a big fuss was made by Richard at reception.  We were not impressed.

The following morning the coach returned us to the station where we took coffee whilst awaiting our tickets and the 10.55 to Aachen.  This train had no 1st class accommodation and the so called 2nd class reminded Richard of the trains in The Great Escape albeit that involved steam trains and this was electric.  It rattled, banged and shook its way across the border for 40 minutes whilst we froze in the drafty compartment and slid about on the very upright, plastic covered, bench seating.  And Richard had managed to choose seats with the most extreme of railway anoraks and a railway modeller to boot, he was railed the whole way by this guy who was only interested in locating ‘the biggest model railway shop in Germany’, so he said, where he hoped to sell to them some street lamps in various scale sizes produced by one of ‘his mates’.  Charlie pretended to sleep the whole way.

Our tour manager (we give people such high fluting titles these days; he was our guide) advised us he was going to head for the world renowned cathedral if anyone would care to join him before tackling the Christmas Market.  We did and were suitably impressed by its relatively small plan size which made the cavernous interior with its 30m high multi-coloured stain-glass windows all the more striking.  After ten minutes of study we left the other visitors to their devotions and headed for the market that starts at the back of the cathedral.

Richard’s brother Bob had made much of the gluwein and how much of it one must drink and fortunately the very first stall or perhaps chalet would be a better description, was serving just that amongst many other beverages.  To us it is mulled wine but we were soon to learn just how different it can be, one chalet to another.  We tried them all.

The variety of goods on sale was extensive and the selection of photos is intended to give some idea of the atmosphere the numerous chalets engendered all ably assisted by the music played by some (see photos of Christmas villages, metal cars with well-known characters, the stir-fry man, light tree decks and the frog orchestra).

After perhaps too many gluweins we noticed we were getting wet.  It was raining.  So we retired to a restaurant we had noted being frequented by mainly locals.  It was a good choice and a leisurely and most enjoyable light lunch was taken before returning again to the market.

The shops spread out around the market chalets were equally impressive and the window of one of these (see photo) we have used for our Christmas card this year.  But there is a limit to the amount of gluwein one can imbibe and our return to the train station was not until 20.00 so we returned to the same restaurant for a glass of the very good Cabernet Sauvignon and to share a pizza.

The train journey back to Liege was as amusing as the journey out and, with the assistance of our trusty coach, we made it back to the hotel by around 22.00.

The next day was spent in Liege exploring the area around the hotel and the two markets there are there.  We were not so impressed.  There were far too many bar and food stalls, you could not describe them as chalets here, and the other stalls were stacked out with the sort of tat we could have found in Newton Abbot Market on a Wednesday.  However, there was one chalet we thought worth a visit, a Swiss chalet apparently sponsored by Gruyere cheese.  We took our evening meal there comprising a simple cheese fondue, a bottle of wine and a bottle of water.  It cost us €56.50; ouch!  But it was very good.  It must more than 15 years since we enjoyed our last fondue and whilst it will not be a regular occurrence, we can see ourselves wishing to repeat its simple and tasty pleasures.

Our trusty coach returned again the following morning to take us on a forty minute motorway drive to the Dutch Alps of which, we were told by our trusty guide, the Dutch are immensely proud.  It took the coach ten minutes to wend its way through the windy rising streets of Valgenburg to reach the car park near the summit of the nearest alp under which lies the sandstone caves within which the Christmas Markets are set out.  The air was rare and we estimated our height above sea level at around 50 metres.  Our house is above that level.

The first and largest set of caves was very disappointing and crammed full of tat and too many people.  Enough said.  After a short walk and a stop at a small local hotel with an outside bar to imbibe two samples of their glug, the Dutch equivalent of gluwein, we moved on with some reticence to the second and much smaller set of caves.  They were much more exciting and the organisers had put tremendous effort into their theme for this year, Dickens A Christmas Carol.  Any small nook or cranny contained a montage of a scene from the book with an explanation in four languages of the part of the story it depicted.

Here we actually bought some Christmas decorations for ourselves and our intended visit on our return for a short stay at Richard’s ex-bosses house.

All to soon we had to make our way back to the surface and retrace our steps to the car park by 16.15, perhaps a little too early, and the return to our hotel for a rest and gathering for a ‘group farewell dinner’.

The group bit was fine but the meal less than inspirational; chicken salad followed by chicken in a red wine sauce had us wondering what sweets can be created with chicken.  Enough said.

The trip back home on the Monday was uneventful but enjoyable with the complimentary meal being a quite acceptable three course, still aircraft style, lunch eased towards the nether regions by a glass of champagne and a small bottle of red wine.

What did Richard think of Eurostar?  It’s a fast, very fast, train but still just a train and expensive for what it is.  A bit like Concorde; let’s hope it doesn’t go the same way.

And what did we think of the train holiday concept?  It works and we shall be looking into Norway using the same formula and company but that and sailing next Spring is all dependant the results of Charlie’s chemotherapy, the five months of which has just been completed.

 

Charlie and ‘it’

The chemo started in July was completed on the 19th of November so by now, the 19th of December, the worst of its initial impact is probably over though it will take two or three months for all the effects to pass; a factor that has more importance than the obvious.

On the brighter side, her deafness caused by the previous series of chemo has, contrary to expectations and advice, receded and her hearing is now as good as ever.  There is little truth in the rumour that Richard is disappointed as he was taking advantage of it; “I did tell you that darling, perhaps you didn’t hear me?”

Her hair loss has been much less and is already showing signs of recovery and the other minor complaints such as awful nightmares and forgetfulness appear to be side-effects of some of the regularly taken prescribed drugs.  These have been explored and alternative drugs prescribed by her consultant this week.  That leaves just minor discomfort in part of her abdomen and the affect “it” is having on her vocal cords that make her quite hoarse and to lose her voice at times.

A bone scan and CT scan were done on the 30th of November to determine the success or otherwise of the chemo and we lived in trepidation of the results.  However, an unrelated exchange of letters brought a pleasant surprise on our return from the Christmas Markets’ trip in that Liz Toy, her consultant, added in a letter to Richard that she had received the results of the bone scan and they showed no change since July’s scan.  That is good news as the fear has been that ‘it’ may have made its way into her bones.

Since then we have seen Liz (on Monday the 14th) and she guardedly but happily reported the CT scan also showed an unchanged position since late July.  But she was at pains to gently remind us that the prognosis was unchanged and that each series of treatment is less likely to be as effective as the last and even when effective, unlikely to stabilise the cancer for as long a period as last year’s series which lasted a good seven months, far longer than she had expected.  Also chemotherapy of the type Charlie needs cannot be repeated in less than three months, ideally six and as if to emphasise what that might mean, further scans have been arranged for six weeks time and a further appointment with Liz on the 1st of February.  You can imagine why we left the hospital contrarily elated but very flat.

But again looking on the brighter side, she also made it quite clear she is constantly thinking about what she can do next to further delay the inevitable and has a selection of drugs and treatments in mind that she will try depending on when the bastard decides to continue its inevitable and inexorable advance.  As yet there is still no way known of stopping it.

In herself, Charlie is and appears very well which we feel is due in no small measure to the care and attention she receives from the hospital team through their stated and oft repeated mission, “it is our job to keep you well”.  They are certainly doing that.

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