E's from Aboard 2010 - Synopsis
As with previous years, the E’s From Aboard and Abroad 2010 were posted straight to our website, kindly set-up and managed by our good friend and kindred sailing spirit, Rod Day.
Index of Content:
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 2010/1
The New Year dawned with a less than desirable sea change. As its first chilling month progressed pain management that had until then been fairly routine, a little more discomfort here or there dealt with swiftly and effectively with a swig of Oramorph or an increase in slow release morphine tablets, steadily became an issue that increasingly seemed unmanageable. By the month end phone calls to Charlie’s GP were a daily occurrence as the pain increased and he struggled to find a combination of new drugs that would even touch it.
It was not helped by the consultation with Liz Toy on the 1st of February where she imparted her belief that the pain was probably the direct cause of the cancer advancing through Charlie’s pleura and an apology for the cancer not behaving as expected pain-wise. That was particularly distressing for Charlie with her being terrified of a painful end.
But it was not to be so for long. A previously planned trip to the pain clinic to see a pain consultant resulted in a four day stay in hospital whilst they weaned Charlie off of morphine and on to methadone and passed her palliative care over to Anne Welland, Charlie’s McMillan nurse, and our GP Keith Maybin. In the back ground is the palliative care team and their consultant whom we have yet to meet. Liz Toy remains in overall charge whilst she continues to treat the cancer. Complicated it may be but boy do we feel supported with all these expert folk working so hard to make our lives, not just Charlie’s, as normal as is possible. Don’t let us ever hear a bad word about the quality of care under the NHS; not where we live anyway.
Within two days of discharge from hospital Charlie’s internal pain stopped, just as if someone had turned off a light switch; it just went out. She is still left with the skin surface discomfort but finds that manageable with the use of Lydocane (local anteasthetic) pads. Richard sticks them on in the morning and Charlie peels them off at night as they can only be used for twelve hours in each twenty-four. We had been warned that it would take a little time for her body to adjust to the new drug regime and so it was that some pain returned; a couple of adjustments in the dosage of methadone and pre-gablin linked with the cessation of the Lydocane pads had both the internal and surface discomforts under control by the end of February. The rise in morale was immeasurable.
In summary, after the worst month we have experienced, our peckers are back up and Charlie seems as well now as she has over the past eighteen months and that alone raises our hopes of another Spring’s sailing. That will be interrupted by chemo sessions if they go well until late May. The chemo is a different concoction as Liz Toy believes the cancer has become resistant to the previous one now having been used for three programmes of six sessions. This one will be a trial of three to see if it has any effect followed by three more if it does. And even the fact that it is being given is a good sign as it is not normal to be able to repeat chemo within three months of a previous session as generally the patient is not strong enough to withstand it. Says a lot for Charlie’s fortitude and her body’s ability to put up a fight does it not?
Our peckers were so far up that we went out and bought a new car. Nothing too elaborate but a deal we could not resist so ‘Tommy’s’ reign has come to an end after seven and a half years. It is a Mercedes A class A150 that we have named Daisy as she is gentle, quiet and very easy to drive. The logic was comfort as during January’s saga Charlie was increasingly finding it difficult to get in and out of Tommy and through his hard sports suspension, feeling every bump and lump in the road; and there are loads of them in the first mile of lane leaving our home.
As to the winter, that has taken its toll on our supply of logs; they’re finished. And it decimated Freddy, one of our beautiful tree ferns. Firstly by the snow load breaking half a dozen of his fronds and then by killing off last year’s growth; he only had one year’s growth due to last winter’s damage. Mercury (the other fern) seems to have withstood the onslaught somewhat better and whilst it is losing some of its fronds there are still plenty left. So much for global warming?
But as the picture of the first fall indicates, it and the freezing temperatures made it impossible for us to leave the house at all. We may well have got down the lane but there would have been no way we could have got back up again. Thus on two or three occasions, for two or three days at a time, we were snowed in. Not a problem as we had stocked up accordingly and were snug, warm and more than adequately fed and watered; well wined maybe.
The end of February and the first buds of March brought early signs of Spring. The garden is bursting with green shoots, many of which are unidentified as we cannot remember what was planted where or when. The roses that were purchased to embrace the newly constructed rose arch are shooting so they have survived the worst of the winter weather. And if the wind had been lighter we may well have taken a glass of lunchtime wine on the patio as it was flooded with warming sunshine. That would have been a repeat of 2008 when warm spells broke up the traditional dark, dank and cold February weather.
Are we flying out to Crete on 24 March? We still can’t say. It all depends on how well the chemo goes and whether Charlie’s resilience will allow the third chemo to be brought forward from the 25th to the 21st. Perhaps the next E will actually be from “On Board”?
E From Aboard 2010/2
Sunshine and clear skies always raise the spirits particularly when, as this year, they appear with the first day of March and continue for almost three weeks. This was despite the near disaster with Charlie’s chemo on Thursday the 4th when her anti-sick medication was not provided and we forgot to ask for it and that resulted in the obvious, followed by Charlie’s whole metabolism being adversely affected necessitating a stay in hospital whilst she was stabilised on the Friday. After recuperating from that everything picked up again quite rapidly. The meeting with her consultant on the Thursday had been positive and upbeat so when on Tuesday Charlie was full of beans after an Exeter shopping trip Richard said “I had a look at the long-range weather forecast this morning and this lovely weather is due to continue; how do you fancy a trip to The Lakes?” It may as well have been a rhetorical question.
On Wednesday morning we set off for Bangor on Dee to stay with Nick & Pat in their new home just opposite the racecourse with its lovely countryside views and loads of sheep grazing in part of their back garden; still, you expect nothing less than lots of sheep in Welsh Wales. The journey could not have been easier and after stops for coffee and a light lunch, we were warmly greeted at around 15.00 hours with a cup of tea shortly followed by some celebratory bubbly. We had a lot to catch up on.
After a most enjoyable evening and morning with them putting the world to rights and catching up on their news since they had moved from Devon, we drifted gently up to The Lakes in brilliant sunshine and arrived in Ambleside in perfect time for a light lunch at The Glass House. Richard ate there when it first opened more than ten years ago and soon found an excuse to take Charlie up for a short break to enjoy its delightful food. Nothing had changed in that regard; the food and service is exemplary so after a light lunch of homemade soup and crusty bread, we booked for an evening meal.
We checked into a Best Western hotel in Ambleside, The Salutation, which is just a short walk from the Glass House. It is comfortable with all the facilities one might hope for in a 4-star establishment though the rooms are perhaps nearer 3-star, but that is being picky. Our evening meal at The Glass House was a culinary delight and softly romantic. Much time was spent reminiscing on previous trips as well as much of what we have enjoyed in life during our time together. The time flew bye and before we knew it the diplomatic slipping of our bill on to the table brought us back to reality and the realisation that we were the last patrons left in the establishment. We retired to bed, well satisfied and already feeling the trip was a great success.
The intention had been to move on the following day but having driven all round Lake Windermere and stopped at numerous hotels and guest houses, we returned to The Salutation and booked in for a further two nights.
During the days we cruised around enjoying the comfort of Daisy our newly acquired Mercedes A class, stopping wherever we fancied. Two special stops as Charlie’s wished were in and around Hawkshead to visit Beatrix Potter’s house and the museum set up in her name in her husband’s, William Hellis, old office in Hawkshead itself. The village is absolutely charming (see photos) and worth a visit in its own right without the literary connections of Wordsworth and Potter. That and our eating out were probably the highlights of our trip. On the second night we tried the Thai restaurant almost next door to the hotel and on the last night returned to The Glass House for another culinary delight. Should you find yourself in that locality try their special ceasar salad with pancetta and a softly poached egg; a strange mix on first sight but with their homemade dressing and heavily crisped pancetta it’s a beautiful starter. It is also available as a main course.
We again stopped off at Nick & Pat’s for the night on the way back and dragged ourselves away mid-morning and made it home with ease by late afternoon. An excellent five days that worked miracles on our spirits. Holidaying in The Lakes is not cheap though; we got through nigh on a thousand pounds but felt it was worth every penny.
The excellent weather continued for a few more days which greatly assisted Richard in stacking the eight loads of logs that are to form the base of our stored supply for next winter. A covered store had been built the year before under which they are stacked to fully dry out through the summer. A couple more loads will be needed to complete the store early in the summer. The weather also assisted in the completion of more early Spring jobs such as renewing the support wiring for the vines that provide shade to the arbour patio and the barbeque. Charlie was to be found buying plants at every opportunity that were plonked down at prescribed spots in various beds for Rose (our gardener) to plant during her weekly Monday visits.
As the next appointment with Liz Toy approached the pressure rose. We had planned and booked our first trip out to Charlie Girl IV back in early December, before further chemo had been decided upon. Flying on 24 March necessitated leaving home on the 23rd; the third chemo session ended up being scheduled for the 25th – ah?! But Liz could not be more helpful; she offered to see how things were going and if Charlie’s ‘bloods’ were good enough, to bring forward the chemo to the 22nd. Fine, but the near disaster after the second chemo had Charlie worrying about the practicality of that. A discussion with Liz at the clinic on the 19th went well and all depended on the results of the blood test on the 20th. Monday morning’s phone check found them a bit short on white cell count so a further test was prescribed for our lunchtime arrival at the day centre. Further stress here as after four attempts they had stilled failed to get a line into Charlie’s arm, first to take blood and second to administer the chemo if all was well. Eventually they got a line in, took a sample, tested it and found the white cell count was now well up so chemo was then administered. But that was not completed until after 1730 and we were due to travel the following morning; a day when Charlie usually wanted to curl up and die whilst the chemo courses through her system.
Whilst she did not want her usual morning tea at 0700 the following morning, she felt well enough to go so at 11.00 Rod & Pat picked us up and whisked us off to Exeter St David’s to catch the 11.55 Intercity train for Paddington. So, missing out the journey which was fine but neither of us enjoyed because of the uncertainty, we were picked up from Heraklion airport by Robin & Pauline and were onboard Charlie Girl IV by 17.30. Our arrival at the marina was like royalty coming home. Loads of folk appeared out of nowhere to greet us and make a huge fuss, particularly of Charlie. It is heart-warming to experience such generous human spirit.
After Charlie had taken a nap we strolled off to Portes with Robin & Pauline for supper and were similarly greeted by Manoli its owner and chef who made a fuss of us as did Robin & Pauline which made us feel very privileged indeed. We were glad we had made the effort but vowed never again to travel the day after chemo.
The next few days were spent busying ourselves around the boat, putting her back together again in anticipation of some sailing during the season. The new genoa was found on board but it was so windy it was Sunday before it and the mainsail could be hanked on.
The stainless steel passerelle fitting that Richard had designed and that a local Bovey blacksmith had manufactured for us was duly fitted and works a treat. After six years we at last have a permanent and safe means of access whilst in port. Charlie is particularly pleased as it has removed all of the potential wobbles the original plank had and its specially made successor that was rigged up last Spring as a passerelle but without a suitable boat-end fitting gave. Perhaps the photo doesn’t do it justice but fellow yachties will appreciate the problem.
A new outhaul, the third attempt, was purchased and fitted and seems to have solved the problem that caused its initial renewal, that being the stiffness that developed in pulling it out from the mast and furling it. That was due to the aging of the rope in the harsh Mediterranean climate causing it to stiffen and thus bind in the various blocks (pulleys) it runs through on its way back to the cockpit from the boom. Why three attempts? The lesson here revolves around measuring the thickness of old worn lines and purchasing their equivalents. The boat’s manuals do not give recommended rope sizes and the manufacturers appear to make ropes to metric and, believe it or not, imperial standards. Thus whilst the original appeared to be 12mm+ and we bought what was described as 12mm rope, in both cases it turned out to be nearly 14mm on one and over 14mm on the other; both bound tightly in the blocks! Boring and very frustrating but now fixed with locally purchased 12mm rope.
New fender socks have been fitted and as the hull has been polished for us over the winter, Our Girl now looks nearly as good as new.
As the fortnight progressed the medium term weather forecast deteriorated for the few days we had thought we might go for a sail up to Spinalonga for a night at anchor in its peaceful and poignant historic atmosphere under the expected full moon. Instead of a light north-westerly, the prevailing wind, a southerly force 5 appeared in the forecast. We aborted the idea and it was fortunate we did as that developed on the day to a full southerly gale.
But the social life around the marina made up for the loss; guests on board for supper on Wednesday, supper at Sami’s with the walkers on Thursday, a trip out to Richard and Adrianne’s villa for supper with others on Friday, the Easter midnight celebrations on Saturday and the Easter feast on Sunday. We needed Monday off before travelling home on Tuesday!
With the threatened rail strike avoided, the journey home went according to plan as did attendance at the hospital for the prearranged CT scan on the Wednesday. Whilst a full report was not expected for a week or so Liz Toy expected to be able to update us on the benefits, if any, of the three sessions of chemo administered so far at the appointment with her on Thursday; much to her and our surprise the full report was available for that and to her delight indicated that the cancer had been, in her words ’knocked back a bit’. We were shocked and amazed as that had never been achieved before.
Whilst fully appreciating the potential consequences of terminating the current series of chemotherapy, Charlie was considering it as the side effects were steadily increasing as was the evident permanent and long-term damage it causes. There was also the wish to see another Mediterranean Spring on her beloved yacht. Liz Toy readily understood this and suggested she have the fourth session due in four days and cancel the fifth and sixth sessions as she felt to do otherwise would leave Charlie ‘short-changed’ as she put it. She fully supported the balance between quality of life currently available versus the potential extension of life expectancy. We opted for terminating at four sessions.
Our return from an excellent fortnight aboard was seriously marred by returning to a house that smelt like the inside of an oil tank; the boiler situated on the first floor had sprung a leak that had soaked into the landing and airing cupboard floors and dripped down on to the sofa positioned directly below. That, whilst distressing, was fortuitous at it saved the oil reaching the ground floor. Resolution of the problem was going to take up to three months in the view of the appointed loss adjuster as was the fact that we would have to vacate the house in the meantime. The loss adjuster agreed we could move out to our yacht in Crete and insurers would meet our travel costs as this would prove cheaper than alternative accommodation locally.
Flights were booked for the following Tuesday, April 20th, and arrangements made to travel up to London for Charlie’s eldest sister’s 70th birthday celebrations which included a trip further up the Thames from their riverside house at Chiswick in a classic motor launch. That was a wonderful day marred only slightly by the realisation that we were unlikely to fly out on Tuesday because of the volcanic ash saga. That subsequently proved to be so and we had to rebook with Aegean Air for Friday the 23rd and fly from Heathrow via Athens rather than direct from Gatwick with Easyjet as they had no available seats before the end of the month.
One last bit of silliness, Richard had always wanted to ride on the moving handrail of a travellator like most big kids. A bizarrely empty Gatwick airport after our flight was cancelled gave him that opportunity and his brother Bob caught the crime being committed on camera. Good that we can still laugh isn’t it?
And that is where this missive must end with us aboard a yacht that is already to leave and impatiently awaiting fair winds to enable our departure.
E From Aboard 2010/3
Never before have we managed to have a full lunch and sumptuous dinner before morning coffee time has passed but on the 10th of May, St. Nikolaos’s day, we did just that. St. Nikolaos is the patron saint of seaman, not Father Christmas, to Greeks and as most Greeks live by the sea in both senses of that expression, the celebration of His day is taken very seriously.
A taxi collected us, Rod & Pat and Frank & Julie at 09.30 and took us round to the next bay north of Kioni for the church service in the chapel there and the feast that was to follow.
We peered through the open doors of the chapel to absorb the atmosphere of the service but did not join their incantations; neither did thirty or so others who were already standing around drooling over the six, near cooked, whole carcasses roasting on a ground level barbeque whilst supping large plastic glasses full of lager wired up, on tap, from the chapel.
By 10.30 the service was over and the meat was being served, two pigs, two goats and two sheep that had been brilliantly cooked over-night. The flavour of the pork and goat was exceptional as was the lamb albeit slightly less so. At first we all resisted the offering and just watched the butcher reducing each carcass to edible portions in around five minutes. But soon the aroma struck home and we joined in the polite mêlée, collecting successive succulent platefuls until, in less than an hour, it was all gone; even the bones from all plates had been collected by the older lady folk to be taken home, presumably to make stock or broth. You would have thought none of the attendees had eaten for a month!
On top of the meat there were copious quantities of fresh bread, cheese, sausage or bacon pies, hard boiled eggs suitably stained dark red in deference to Christ’s blood, several different sweets and cakes and plastic mugs full of an ancient cous cous type mixture of seeds and nuts.
Almost unbelievably with the food, beer and wine all gone we were back on the boat before midday, not that the celebrations all ceased there or then. The Jazz Bar was full of local Greek men imbibing further celebratory drinks of Ouzo, whisky et al who were still there when we returned later in the day to log on to the Internet, check the weather, do some banking and exchange some e-mails. The owner George, pronounced ‘yourgo’, could barely speak but the ambience remained entirely friendly and unthreatening.
We had arrived in Kioni, our absolute favourite port of ports, on Saturday May 8th having left Aghios Nikolaos 380nms behind on Sunday May 2nd, a mere six days previously. A six day weather window of constant southerly biased winds had been evident on the UK’s Met Office website Weatheronline for some two weeks previously and as our journey was north and west that was too good to miss. The winds were rarely strong enough to sail all day so around £250.00’s worth of diesel was consumed doing it and Charlie needed a bit of persuading that is was worth while getting up at 05.30 morning every morning to achieve it. But on arrival in Kioni it was evident from her almost childlike pleasure that it certainly had been. We did spend two nights in Killini some 40nms south of Kioni for Charlie to recuperate a little and to wash down Our Girl in advance of arrival. The following day, Sunday, St. Nikolaos’s day, the wind turned northerly and with some strength; more of that in a minute.
It had been our intention to surprise Rod & Pat by tracking their progress via mobile phone exchanges, keeping quiet about our actual position and progress, and for them to find us in their destination one night; all this having flowed from Rod saying they thought our paths were unlikely to cross once they knew we had not made it out to Crete until April 23rd. Having previously sailed with us on CGIV from Crete to the Ionian on two occasions they knew the waiting to leave and travel time normally totalled four to five weeks making out eta around the end of May, after their intended time for leaving the Ionian. We did surprise them but had to tell them we were there when just 15nms south of Kioni as they were 15nms north of it but intending to head further north. They changed their plans and we met in Kioni.
Frank & Julie were on board Genevieve, Rod & Pat’s B44 almost identical to ours, enjoying a fortnight’s holiday as their guests. We had met them several times over dinner with Rod & Pat as they also lived in Bovey just a few metres away from Rod & Pat.
Kioni always has another attraction, Costas Raftopoulos, a gentleman of generous years of whom Charlie in particular is particularly fond. As Richard says, equally fondly, “he is a loveable rogue” and is renowned for his story telling as witnessed in The Lonely Planet. Contact is kept up through the winter by phone at his or Charlie’s instigation. However, Charlie had become somewhat concerned in the knowledge that all was not well for him either during the winter and she had been ringing his Kioni number for some weeks expecting to find him there without any response. Her fears were supported as we moored up in Kioni noting his house was occupied only by Albanian builders apparently carrying out renovation works. The air was heavy with foreboding as we stepped ashore and walked along the quay.
Inquiries were made with Babis a much younger resident who runs our favoured taverna. “Yes” he said. “He is here somewhere. He arrived today from Athens”. Charlie was jubilant until she met Costas walking slowly along the front; he was terribly frail and weak. But over the following two days he perked up remarkably as he settled into his routine of fleecing unwitting yachties of €3.00 per head for showers in his historic house, Hamilton House, allegedly built by Lord Nelson to house his mistress Lady Hamilton whilst his fleet was based nearby. It may be so but Richard’s eagle eye noted the stone lintel over the entrance way sporting a date post Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. But who cares, maybe the Greek stonemason go the date wrong?
We made a great fuss of Costas whilst learning of his medical tribulations and introduced him to Frank & Julie when he joined us at tavernas to sup a small glass of wine whilst we dined and it was he who first mentioned the St Nikolaos celebration.
For the next couple of weeks it seemed we were doomed to party day after day; it was such a chore. First it was Rod & Pat with Frank & Julie culminating in our usual childish expedition on mopeds along the picturesque if dangerous mountain road over the top of Ithaca to visit the mountain-top monastery then on to Stavros and Polyphemus taverna for a treat of a lunch. The views are spectacular.
When we left Ithaca a surprise phone call from Harry of Malua (his yacht) from Australia informed us that he and Peter & Kaye on Wild Thyme with whom we had left Aghios Nikolaos were in Big Vathi. We agreed to meet up in Little Vathi once the southerly gale had passed through from which we had taken shelter in Levkas marina for two nights. We dined twice with Harry catching up on his exploits and to learn that Denny, his wife, would be joining him on the 28th for an onward trip to Corsica for the wedding of Harry’s best friend’s son. With the bride’s family being very Corsican, the wedding promises to be Sicilian in style! But before that we are to dine with Harry & Denny.
Then we were delighted to bump into Steve & Gill on Ionia who we have not seen for a year or two. He is larger than life as a character and physically for that matter and. Boy, do they know how to enjoy life. Whilst we only spent a morning with them in a bar in Little Vathi it was great fun.
During that time we spent six nights in Little Vathi on Meganissi, something we have never done before other than in our home port. Mainly this was because of the most unseasonal weather that got progressively worse as May wore on particularly after our arrival in the Ionian on the 6th. By the 15th we were experiencing colder weather than in Crete in early March. Rain and we mean rain, heavy and persistent, followed a few days later by cyclonic thunderstorms. The temperatures plummeted to an unseasonal 17-19°C maximum during the day albeit only a little less at night time. We were not amused.
But on the 22nd there were signs of change and on Sunday the 23rd we sleepily arose to a typical Ionian morning; clear blue sky, absolutely no wind, glass-like sea and a rapidly rising temperature in the unbroken sunlight. Tea was taken on deck, in shorts, at 8am. Now we were even happier bunnies.
And there we shall leave it, all still going well with a realistic expectation of not having to return home before our scheduled date of July 17th.
E From Aboard 2010/4
Darkness brings dark thoughts, restless nights and bad dreams, perhaps a quite natural consequence of living with the knowledge that our time together is severely limited. But, as is said, every cloud has a silver lining and our silver lining is the heightened enjoyment of the good things in life that so many folk in similar circumstances are unable to experience; in that regard we know just how fortunate we are. The early morning of Monday the 24th of May exampled that well.
We were at anchor for the night in what we call Tony’s Bay in memory of a dear man Charlie worked with who departed this life before his time and whose funeral took place whilst we were anchored here some years back. Night fall had seen us early abed and soon asleep thus an early awakening around dawn was perhaps to be expected. Richard was up at first light long before man’s daily activity could spoil the simple delights our planet affords us.
An almost imperceptible breath of wind, so light it was incapable of disturbing the flat calm blue glass mirror like sea, brought him the gentle aroma of the shoreline fishermen’s camp fire built the previous evening from beach driftwood. Yet it was enough to gently swing Charlie Girl from east to west slowly unfolding the breathtaking panorama before him. First the sky, sketched with wispy stratospheric cloud lightly coloured by the sun rising wistfully over the mainland mountain ridges. Then across southern horizon to find the equally mountainous island of Kalamos, its sphinx like shape shrouded in early morning mist adding to its mystical air; then Megannisi, six miles off, low in the water and darkly silhouetted against the pale blue sky with its many inlets no doubt sheltering dozen of holiday-making yachts their crews still slumbering on; and to the west the equally mountainous island of Levkada its peaks responding to the first shafts of sunlight showing off their craggy contours.
Then, as he stared in wonderment at this natural world, he realised there were also sounds, not of modern mankind’s making, more natural sounds, ancient sounds, only audible to those fortunate enough to be where we were. The seagulls in their hundreds on a tiny islet just a mile away squawking as they circled above their multitudinous nests; a blackbird calling from the single oak tree on the shoreline half-a-mile off our bow; the gentle ‘pop pop pop’ of a small local fishing boat trolling his lines some two miles distant, sounds that would not be heard for the otherwise silence of this environment.
It was bliss; bliss to be shared and so he called Charlie to come up on deck whilst he made the tea. Together we sat for an hour or so absorbing the tranquil atmosphere before it was inevitably disturbed by others, also at anchor, rising and the gradual increase in the morning breeze rippling the surface of the sea, erasing its mirror like images.
Many times we have tried to capture such panoramas on camera, without success. Not always is it true to say a picture is worth more than a thousand words; sometimes the minds ability to interpret the words into pictures is worth substantially more than any picture. How say you?
Later that morning we lifted the anchor a drifted under full sail in a light and fluky breeze the few miles round to Palairos, Charlie’s most disliked port in the Ionain. She was keen to meet up with Judy, an old and dear friend who was holidaying nearby with her eldest Grandson at the Suinsail base. Rod & Pat joined us there and a most enjoyable evening was had first taking wine on board CGIV and then dining at a waterside taverna. Charlie had her reasons for wishing to meet up with Judy that were to become clear to others as time went by.
Two days hence the early morning brought a less than blissful awakening. Charlie had dreamt, or so she thought, that a cat or rat had been aboard in the early hours of the morning. Richard’s discovery of twenty or so rat droppings and a couple of pee puddles in the saloon proved it was no dream but the stark reality of one of a yachties’ worst fears, a rat taking up residence on board. The damage they can do to water piping, electric cables and furnishings in a matter of hours has to be seen to be believed, the former ensuring a yacht goes nowhere until the rat is caught and the damage repaired. Out came the rat trap, away went anything that a rat might be able to scent food on or in, in went some bait and the trap set. We would not know until the following morning whether we had a problem or not.
Ratty as he became known over the next few days, had squeezed past the mosquito net on the open hatch over the starboard stern cabin, climbed onto a shirt that was hanging there to dry and dropped the remaining metre on to the bed; an amazing feat of agility in itself. What is more amazing is that we came to realise that he must have somehow managed to scramble back out the way he had come in after having eaten one of our cod liver oil capsules we had set out with the morning tea paraphernalia and discarding the other one on the floor; there was no other possible route for him to have taken. That being is only apparent intake no doubt he will have found his movements a little more regular than usual for a day or two! The relief of that realisation was so great we celebrated with yet another bottle of bubbly.
And that is about it for May during which we have rushed up from Crete and drifted around our favourite haunts in the Northern Ionian; we even managed some sailing and had our Gennaker out for the first time in two years or more. Now we shall head south around the Peloponnisos and across into the Cyclades before dropping south back onto Crete. Or will we?
E From Aboard 2010/5
Leaving the Ionian is a particularly poignant moment for us. “Will I ever see it again” is what Charlie has asked each time since July 2008 when we were told there was no hope of a cure and eighteen months was the most she could hope to survive let alone be well enough for such travels ever again. We have returned twice since, each time thinking it would be the last trip. This year we could tell from Charlie’s Consultant’s face and cautious advice in April we were pushing our luck to try for this, our third year. But we did.
After a full five weeks spent happily cruising around our favourite haunts it was time to make tracks for Crete; partly because we felt we had pushed our luck far enough and partly because additional pleural discomfort had just caused Charlie to lift the dosage of the drug that deals with that to the maximum allowable amount; the latter making for sober thoughts.
On the 6th of June we set off from Poros on Kephalonia. On leaving the port we turned south and a gentle breeze on our tail nicely filled our sails. Looking back we marvelled at our beloved mystical and legendry Ithaca, standing out darkly on the horizon as if outlined and shaded in charcoal over the bright blue early morning sky by Odysseus the island’s mythical King. It may have been better if we had not looked back.
We sailed on in silence, both with our own thoughts of what had gone before and of what is to come.
Katacolon was our target as it was for Rod & Pat returning north whom we had invited to supper for which food needed to be prepared and cooked. Richard decided on Chilli con Carne for that night and a Bolognese sauce for the night after, using up the minced beef steak purchased in Euphemia and the rich tomato sauce he had made a few days earlier. Preparation of the other ingredients was commenced on deck whilst ‘Tim’ helmed CGIV on our set course.
On seeing Richard cheerily chopping veg, Charlie, without warning, suddenly broke down; it was not long before Richard followed suit. It may have been the music Charlie had chosen to put on or the poignant moment of leaving the Ionian or just that we needed to let some of the pent-up emotion go that we generally manage to keep under control so we can live our lives as near to normal as is possible. Perhaps we’ll never know but it was deeply distressing and completely negated the joy we should have been experiencing from one of the best sails we had had for a very long time. Nothing we could say to each other, or do, seemed to help; Charlie even cried out in desperation tinged with exasperation “Please! Somebody! Help me!” There was no response.
On arrival in Katacolon some 8 hours later Richard was tense to say the least; a mood not helped by an irritating little man telling him he could not moor up where we had backed up to the quay. A few words were exchanged and we stayed put. And to change the subject dramatically, the irritating little man then informs us there is now a charge for mooring in Katacolon of €10.00 plus €5.00 for power and water.
We actually support that as there are too many ports in Greece where you moor up for free and gain use of all available facilities at no cost; it is no wonder Greece’s finances are in such a mess. Someone has to pay for all the harbours they’ve built, the water supplied on tap (a dreadful pun don’t you think?) and, in particular the collection of the tons of rubbish us yachties deposit in their bins. Too many of our sailing compatriots resent the charges and do their utmost to avoid any contribution to the Greek economy other than buying essential produce to eat and drink on board. Currently there is talk of an annual boat tax, a sort of council tax one might say and we are perhaps alone in supporting the concept given the charge is reasonable. After all, if we are to continue enjoying the delights of sailing Greek waters we must contribute something to their economy!
It has become clear over the past month that there has been a radical change in that regard. We have seen ourselves and heard from others that harbour charges are being introduced and collected where they never have been before. Each year that has been so in one or two new places but since the middle of May it has been almost wide spread. Good we say.
Returning to our trip and our fragile emotions, feeling emotionally drained we opted to stay in Katacolon for a further day and take the train to Olympia; a trip we had done by car in 2005 before the reinstatement of the local metre gauge line to Pyrgos where it joins the mainline and shortly after branches off again to reach Olympia. As a bit of a train anorak Richard thoroughly enjoyed the 40 minute trip in very modern rolling stock on somewhat decrepit track that wends its through Methana’s verdant agricultural plains, village backyards and Pyrgos’s main streets, stopping regularly at little wayside halts with no more than a slab of concrete to mark them as stations. The train is well used by locals as well as visiting yachties which is no surprise with a return fare for the whole journey of just €3.00.
Olympia was just what we needed. Its air of peace, permanence and tranquillity that is difficult to explain was strongly felt by us both. The ruins are of interest of course but it is perhaps the sites historic importance as the centre for peaceful competition between warring nations and that prompted the modern Olympics linked to its abundance of trees and other flora and fauna that, when added to the numerous birds singing in the same safety as was guaranteed the ancient athletes, calmed us and caused us to reflect on our good rather than our bad fortune. It was a lifting couple of hours. Some photos are included but they hardly do the place justice.
Still feeling somewhat scarred but refreshed nonetheless, we arose early the next morning and tackled the 60nm trek down to Methoni, another favourite anchorage where we decided we would chill out for a few days, five in fact. It was just as well we did as Richard had a particularly poor night that badly shook his confidence in how he was dealing with ‘it’. His shakiness was short lived but again, sobering.
Methoni is a quiet little village wrapped as it is around a sandy bay with an extensive peninsula at one end that was once a thriving medieval fortified town providing succour and protection to the numerous passing sailing ships that sought shelter in the bay on their voyages from east to west, particularly those carrying wealth back to Venice in its heyday. But it has all the facilities we want; Ostria a Kafenion with free wifi laid on and next door to it, To Meltemi a taverna run by a charming, softly spoken Greek gentleman who never fails to greet us quietly but oh so warmly. And he serves the most wonderful swordfish, with chips of course, though Charlie asks for a little salad instead, as well as what Charlie describes as “the best fish souvalaki I’ve ever had”, which he explained when she asked, is made with a local fish called Myahtiko. And it is all so cheap. Coffees are still €2.00, wine €3.50 per half kilo (litre) and the swordfish just €7.00; we regularly pay €13-15.00 elsewhere for similar sized portions. Above all else it is a quiet and peaceful spot.
We haven’t mentioned wildlife sightings for a while, partly because there have been none of consequence. One real disappointment is the lack of dolphin sightings this year; we have not seen one so far this season. However, an early morning walk around Methoni’s fortified peninsula dramatically put all that to rights. The first surprise was to see hundreds of woodlice criss-crossing the footpaths we followed through scrub growth within the outer walls; it was not something we had noticed before and is perhaps not as unusual as we think. The next sighting was much more exciting. As we approached the remaining and still maintained church in the middle of what was the old town, an owl swooped down from under the bell in the free-standing belfry. Only Richard got a glimpse of it as it was so quick but later on he spotted it sitting atop the battlements some 100m away and, as he pointed it out to Charlie, it again took off and swooped down into the undergrowth. It was a fair sized bird and on reporting it to Andrew Cooper by e-mail, our naturalist friend back home, he suggested that being at that time of day, in that location and of the described size and colouring, it was likely to be a Barn owl as they are less white fronted that ours. We really got quite excited about it. And as it swooped down Richard saw something else move in the undergrowth right by the path; he thought it was a Gecko, a lizard, but it wasn’t. No sooner did he look for what he had glimpsed but it popped back out onto a rock, stopped and, apparently unperturbed by our presence, stared at us both whilst we examined it and got even more excited. It was a Pine Martin in beautiful condition, out hunting for his breakfast as was the owl no doubt.
An Attempt at Humorous Writings
Returning to our trip to Olympia, we may have mentioned before that Katacolon is used by most of the major cruise ship companies as a stopping place for the same purpose. That morning was no exception as one of these grossly ugly blocks of flats on water arrived as we ate breakfast. We were amazed to find them already touring the site when we got there; over twenty separate groups, each with their banner carrying guide and every person with a sticker stuck to their chests reminding them which number group they were in. How we have come to accept being treated and herded like mindless sheep. What struck Richard apart from those derogatory observations was the speed at which they were being forced round this wonderfully peaceful place and he imagined the announcement they had all heard as the ship docked at 0700. Richard’s recitation as we strolled lazily around the site made Charlie laugh and insist it be repeated here.
“Good morning Cruisers. Our eta in Katacolon is 07.00. For those visiting Olympia breakfast is cancelled. Your coaches’ leave at 07.30 so we can get you there for when the site opens at 08.00GMT, that’s Greek Maybe Time for those who don’t know. Make sure you collect your group number stickers and wear then prominently on your front or we won’t let you on the coach; there are 21 coaches with 70 of you in each of them after all. This early start is not to avoid the heat of the day but to ensure we can rush you to a coffee you don’t want, a chance to buy crap souvenirs you don’t need, followed by a drink you can’t stand and a crap cheap lunch that we have arranged as part of the package tour we conned you into paying for. It is not to make sure you don’t get too hot and sue the company for your resultant heart attack. Courier guides will take you round and explain everything. You will need to walk at 10kph (that’s around 7mph for our Imperial readers) to keep up and complete the tour by 10.00 when we will take you into the town for another coffee or ghastly local drink at the best taverna set under three plain trees; the drinks will be three times the normal price because you’re cruisers and they think you won’t notice. Then you will be whisked back to your coach by 11.30 so you can enjoy lunch back at Katacolon at a taverna overlooking the murky harbour, its quays and your liner; we wouldn’t want you to forget what a block of flats looks like now would we; even a floating one. The food will be typically Greek or at least that is what we tell you. Souvalaki & chips, otherwise known as chicken and chips; traditional Greek dishes, such as Moussaka – and chips, will be available for our difficult, ah sorry, discerning clients. We guarantee the béchamel sauce topping will be thick, gloppy and should make you sick so you will want to eat on board in future. Nonetheless, please buy lots of drinks, postcards and rubbish gifts as we get 10% commission on everything you spend.”
Maybe I exaggerate but if you had seen the speed at which these poor souls were rushed around Olympia and how they looked having their over-priced drinks under the plane trees afterwards, you would think the same. We’ve also witnessed the poor lunch they are served which is perhaps no surprise when you think just how many meals have to be produced in such a short time by an otherwise small local taverna or two. Ah well, at least we get to see the best of Greece and its food in our own way.
There we shall leave you until the next missive. Thank you for reading it. Love it or hate it, send us an e-mail telling us what you think as some of our “virtual readers” do. That is a quote from one of them.
E From Aboard 2010/6
To sit on a Venetian style balcony, just large enough to hold two tables for two, overlooking the beautifully maintained pan-tile roofs of the equally Venetian style houses and the domed roof of an early Byzantine church that is so close you can almost touch it and have the mountainous Peloponnesus coastline stretching out before you down to Cap Malea some 17nms distant, is just magical. That was our supper-time view in the Old Town of Monemvasia. The sun had just gone down and the half-moon hung like a lantern in the cloudless sky seeking to illuminate the scene, just for us, whilst our waiter brought us our ordered meal. Don’t let anyone tell you the Greeks don’t appreciate or cannot prepare decent food; it is just not so. The fava we shared as a starter with olive bread was a delight to the palate; light and full of flavour that was further enhanced by a few drops of squeezed lemon and olive oil that accompanies many traditional Greek dishes. Charlie followed that with gently grilled fresh sea bream that had been basted with oil, lemon and herbs as it cooked, complimented by a dish of Xorta (boiled wild mountain greens) and a boat of the basting oil. Richard relished his tagliatelle mafiozo; a rich pasta dish of chorizo sausage, ham and bacon in a spicy tomato sauce; the wine was local and delicious enough to encourage a second half-litre which was taken after we had finished eating and whilst absorbing the ambience. It was still quiet as the forecast strong winds were yet to materialise and the ‘cheeping’ of the numerous sparrows and the soft conversation of the few fellow eaters were the only sounds to breach the otherwise peaceful silence. It was romanticism personified.
No sooner do we say “we have seen no Dolphins this year” than several pods are seen two sailing days in a row. But perhaps the most enjoyment was had during our prolonged stay in Monemvasia. Several years ago we spied what we believed to be a large loggerhead turtle in the bay and despite all the water bombs and fireworks lobbed into the water as part of a celebration held each July (see “E From Aboard 2007-6” and its photos) there are now at least five turtles of various sizes. Just what they are feeding on in such a relatively small area is a mystery but throughout the day they cruise around and between the yachts, pass slowly through the gaps in the concrete pontoon and around the bay as a whole. One evening whilst we were eating at a waterside taverna two or three of the smaller ones were cavorting together almost within hand reach. We doubt they are breeding as there is not a sandy beach within twenty miles but there they are, every day, bringing oodles of pleasure to yachties and other visitors alike.
A week or so later we were anchored off in a bay on the south side of the deserted island of Dhespotico 10nms south of Paros. It reminder us if Dhia in that it is barren, mildly mountainous and largely unaffected by man. We delighted to see a Kestrel on our way round its south side and, as the light faded at dusk, a Peregrine Falcon circling over one of the headlands that protected our anchorage. But both of these definitive sightings were dwarfed by what we deduced were sightings of three individual Golden Eagles; two above the same headland and one over our other protective headland. Not being expert Twitchers we cannot be absolutely sure that is what they were but from the location, there outline, colouring and wing shape, our bird book suggests they could have been nothing else. And there were a pair of white-coated goats wandering lazily across the slopes of the headland to add to the wildness of our location. Richard has decided that, now, this is the sort of overnight location he prefers above all others; peace, tranquillity, a gentle swell to rock one to sleep, a constant breeze to excite Casper (our wind generator) into keeping the batteries topped up and no charter yachts to raise ones blood pressure with their too often inane mooring behaviour. It would seem that ‘car park syndrome’ infiltrates their yachting thinking. You know what we mean, an empty car park with just one car in it; why does everyone park right beside him whether he is near to the exit or not? Charter yachts have a tendency to do likewise. Not that we had any problems but whilst in Vathi, a bay than can comfortably hold fifty well spaced out yachts at anchor, two days in a row the majority left and their replacements anchored as close to us as they could get, completely ignoring the adequate space elsewhere. And we had deliberately anchored a fair distance from the quay that all dinghies would then make for. Am I becoming intolerant? Yes!
Politics! What the hell is that doing in our E’s
As most will know Greece is in considerable financial difficulty and has introduced fairly swingeing austerity measures as required by the EU and the IMF. Unfortunately that has either caused or is coincidental with a starkly evident drop in tourists. As tourism is now seen as Greece’s largest industry and foreign exchange earner at 20% of the total, this can only add to their problems. We hear that an additional tax of 10% has been placed on alcohol and VAT is now 21%; both of these are showing in many an alcohol price list though it must be said the majority of tavernas seem to trying to keep all other prices down. Coffee and food is, if anything, cheaper this year than last. Tourism numbers are reported as “down 10%”; from what we see, that is a gross understatement. All this has amplified what we perhaps already knew about the trips we make; part of our enjoyment is feeding off the atmosphere generated by holiday makers; we seem to have largely lost that. Last night in Monemvasia we were the only couple eating at a popular 100 cover restaurant on the seafront that is normally heaving in June. Perhaps not surprisingly we picked up the feeling of depression that we have witnessed in tavernas generally; certainly we can do without that. And the barman at our morning coffee stop where we daily log on through his free wifi admitted he was depressed. “Even the Greeks aren’t coming here, let alone other nationalities like you”. We feel so sorry for him and the average Greek that we meet who has to live the disappointments and costs of the austerity measures but we need to be cheered up, not depressed. We wondered if it was time for us to head home until we reached Adhamas on Milos that is. It is a ferry port and just as Rod Heikell’s Pilot suggests, its springs to life each time a ferry disgorges its cargo of car, trucks and holidaymakers; lots of them. Here the tavernas and bars were pretty full and the atmosphere buzzed with excitement. We found the much the same in Paroikia on Paros though most of the tavernas were sparsely occupied.
Weather & Final Progress Report
The weather has been far from normal this season. That helped us in April giving us a milder spell than we might have expected with lighter and southerly winds enabling our rapid trip up to the Ionian. But May was cooler than normal by 2-3°C with more strong winds and rain than is usual. In the first week in June we were still wearing jumpers whilst sailing and in the evenings, then the opposite occurred for more than a week when the temperatures jumped to 35-38°C; even at night it held up to 28°C in Kapsali on Kithera. And as for the winds, June is generally considered a benign month, ideal for holiday sailing anywhere other than perhaps the Cyclades but for two weeks the winds blew never less than F4 and generally 5 and 6 and often more and generally from the south and west. Ironically the Meltemi, the strong north wind that blows down the Aegean all summer, didn’t show up in May or June though that enabled a lovely sail north from Faros on Sifnos to Paroikia on Paros; 10-12 knots of wind at first close-hauled but then with the wind backing steadily ending up as a down-wind sail into the harbour. Bliss.
Meanwhile, we had intended to stay a couple of nights in Monemvasia, it ended up being seven, three of which were torrid as whilst our anchor was in and mooring effective, this was not so of others. At one point we were carrying over 20 tonnes of yachts to windward plus our own 13 which says something for dear Paul, our anchor; Paul Anker (put any moans of dismay at that in a plain brown envelope addressed to 10, Downing Street please). Thus for three nights in a row we were pounded by gale force katabatic winds screaming down a near vertical cliff on the shore right on the beam of all the moored yachts. That’s sailing.
Returning to the hot weather, sleep deprivation can be an inevitable consequence. We don’t remember where the idea came from but a good wheeze to keep you cool enough to sleep is a wet towel. We have some light, white, largish towels that we soak and lightly wring out which we then drape over us as one would a sheet or blanket. The effect is immediate and dramatic particularly when there is a gentle breeze wafting down the hatch and across the towels. Strangely you never seem to get too cold, just cool enough to sleep.
When we left home in April neither of us really thought Charlie’s health would hold out for our pre-booked flight on the 17th of July. As I write it is the 2nd of July and whilst Charlie’s pain management has become an issue she is quite happy leaving the flight unaltered. Good news indeed. Nonetheless, we both feel it is time to head for home; Aghios Nikolaos that is.
E From Aboard 2010/7
Well, we are now back in gorgeous sunny Devon. The house looks great as does the garden but more of that in a minute.
Much as we love Monemvasia a week holed up there in strong southerly winds and in hotter than normal temperatures, had Richard searching the weather sites for a window that would allow us to easily make the 70nms due East to Milos, the next stepping stone on our route across and down the Aegean to Aghios Nikolaos. We also were craving some English conversation, firstly as we had seen no Brits for more than a fortnight and secondly as we had been surrounded by French folk for the past week (Richard reckons they have all left France because we have moved in en masse and bought all their decent properties). Robin and Pauline on Flapjack and Roger and Birgitta on Bubbly Lady were also heading for Milos and it looked as if we might arrive there at about the same time.
The forecasts remained iffy with the winds still failing to blow from the expected northerly directions other than for a few hours and with their strengths varying dramatically. However, for Thursday the 24th of June there appeared to be a chance that we might sail a good portion of the journey in favourable winds and that we might get a couple of days in Adahmas, Milos’s main harbour, before the southerlies blew again making that quay untenable. It was so and in winds varying from N3-4 to S0-3 we managed to sail 21 of the 73nms and early that evening tied up alongside Flapjack who had arrived earlier that day. After extracting our bikes from the locker and a quick ride around the port we decided we quite liked the place and that we should explore Milos a little.
A beach buggy type of go-kart was hired and with Robin and Pauline on a scooter a fair part of the island was explored. Our conclusion was that it is a fairly uninspiring mining site dotted with the occasional, very occasional, oasis of colour and interest. Being an enormous semi-retired volcano it is naturally full of valuable minerals that have, over the centuries been and still are, actively mined. Some of the roads are nothing more than scraped ground upon which the overspill from numerous huge pieces of mechanical plant have spilt their cargo having dug them out of the mountain sides and off the planes. It does not make for an attractive landscape.
Nonetheless we had an interesting morning and part afternoon, stopping for a beer in the pretty little harbour of Pollonia previously Apollonia or ‘Apollo’s town’, and then lunch in what used to be the Venetian capital of the island. You could have fooled us; a one-horse-town comes to mind as an expression; one church, one garage and one taverna anyway, but not a lot else to service the one hundred or so fairly modern villas that sit on and obliterate any remnants of the ancient capital. We walked into the vacant and silent taverna from the empty and equally silent main road and, as if by magic, a waiter (the owner we guess) appeared with the requisite paper table cloth and four menus. Greek music started soon thereafter. The meal was good and local as was the wine and by the time we left there were a dozen others eating their lunch. Where they had come from was equally a mystery.
After three peaceful if rather choppy nights in Adhamas the wind came in rather strongly from the south so we all moved over to a bay on the south side of the caldera, one of three known as Ormos Dhimitrious. Dimitri must have been someone of importance to have three bays named after him in a bay (the caldera) just 3nms across.
The following day having adequately feasted on our four compatriots good company we made our way the 23nms over to Vathi on Sifnos where we spent three delightful nights at anchor enjoying the peace of the place with its charming little beachside tavernas.
But as July progressed and we relaxed in Vathi our thoughts returned to Charlie’s condition and the memory of her consultant’s face when we said we would return on the 17th. She clearly expected to see us long before then. When you are so far away from the easily accessible care and attention of our excellent healthcare professionals, doubts creep into one’s mind. Charlie began to feel uncomfortable from time to time which was interpreted as ‘it’ advancing. It was time to move on.
We had a brilliant sail from Vathi round the south end of the island and up to Faros where we stopped for just one night to enjoy a fish supper at a taverna we have visited many times and which is renowned for their fish. It was a great disappointment. They were not at all busy and their disconsolate attitude showed in the service and the cooking. Yet another example of Greece’s economic suffering. But the disappointment was tempered for Charlie by the beach bar at which she had one of her newly found drinks, capirosca. It was first tried in Vathi and hit the spot as they say. Vodka, crushed ice, white and brown sugar and crushed fresh limes with variations added in different bars of mint and the like. After that Charlie was up for anything and that always pleases Richard. So, with Richard in the dinghy, holding it hard against the quay so Charlie could safely board for the trip back across the bay to CGIV, Charlie decided to knock Richard’s glasses off and down they went to the rocky bottom of the harbour some 1.5m below. Off came his clothes, well all but his underpants, and in he went, feeling around on the bottom with his feet for his glasses whilst trying to avoid the sea urchins. Even with the help of two torches it was a hopeless task and as he got colder and colder, the efforts were abandoned. We had already decided to have a triple B the following morning, a Bad Boys’ Breakfast that is, but first snorkel and flippers were donned and 20 minutes spent searching the bottom for the glasses. Somewhat surprisingly they were found, deep in a crevice between the rocks, albeit with one small scratch on a lens. Charlie was much relieved as she had got just a little upset.
From there we had another brilliant sail the 20nms up to another new stop for us, Paroikia on Paros. It is an interesting and colourful town but the mooring on the outside of the harbour wall is less than ideal. Thus with an uncertain forecast of strong northerly winds we stayed just the one night before sailing down to another new spot for us on the uninhabited island of Dhespotica some 15nms south of Paroikia. The disproportionately big sea was on the starboard quarter and with just an F4 breeze it made for a rolly and uncomfortable sail. Charlie, who was not feeling at her best, took to her bed for some sleep.
We anchored in a bay that we shall visit again even though, by then, it was blowing a steady F6. Imagine our delight whilst supping our early evening glass of wine as the sun dipped towards the horizon to spot an eagle over the headland to our left to be followed just a few minutes later by a pair over the headland to our right. We are fairly sure from their size, colouring and behaviour that they were Golden Eagles, hanging as they do in the katabatic wind roaring over the island whilst searching the ground for prey that by then should be leaving their shady spots as the heat of the sun passed.
Over supper we reflected on our plans to spend nearly another week in the Cyclades and decided it was time to head home, meaning to Aghios. The following morning we left fairly early, under sail, for Ios, some 25nms south east of us. As such good progress was being made in the steadily rising wind we decided to miss out Ios and other plans and head for Thira and, the next day, Spinalonga. We both felt much more relaxed knowing we would then be just an hour or two from our mooring in Aghios.
After a day-long lively sail we arrived at Thira’s marina to find it packed to capacity; we were lucky in that the marinero put us alongside a charter yacht as later arrivals failed to find a spot for the night.
Next morning we were up just before dawn and heading south, again under sail for the 70nms open sea crossing to Crete; it was to be an increasingly spirited if not threatening sail. The forecast was for NNW4-5 that ultimately proved to be a little light of reality. The wind was as forecast for the first hour or so but to keep to a reach or run causing us to steer a good 15° off course to hold the wind in the sails. Then the wind dropped so we had to motor for 20nms, the wind being insufficient to maintain a reasonable average speed. But then the wind steadily increased and veered until it was almost due west and blowing a steady F6 with regular spells of near gale F7. The sea was quite large and with the regular surfing effect of riding the waves, CGIV picked up her skirts and raced off on the plane at over 10 knots; our best according to the chart plotter was 11.7 knots by which time Charlie was a little frightened and harnesses were in use. As the wind rose and the sea became rougher still, sail was progressively shortened until we had less than half the main up and no more than a third of the genoa. We still made well over 8 knots and achieved a moving average of 7.2 knots for the whole journey bringing us to anchor nearly two hours earlier than expected in our usual bay near Spinalonga.
We spent the next two nights at anchor off Eloundha which we had never done before and quickly decided we will be doing so again. Despite the rising heat, felt particularly on our trips ashore to shop, eat and connect with the Internet, it is a quiet and quite delightful spot despite the nearby touristy area. With the wind remaining strong there was a reluctance to head in to our mooring as to do so in strong winds makes life very difficult and boat damage and embarrassment a probability; it is all too easy to find yourself with lazy-lines wrapped neatly round your prop or jammed in your rudder stock much to others amusement.
Despite the forecast the wind on the morning of the 8th seemed quite benign so we upped anchor at around 10.00 and gently motored the 10nms round to Aghios Nikolaos marina. Robin & Pauline on Flapjack who had joined us in Eloundha had got up at 05.00 in an attempt to avoid the winds on mooring up as their yacht is 55’ long and weighs around 27 tonnes; a big girl indeed to manage in the confines of the marina. As it turned out there was practically no wind when we arrived but they had struggled, successfully, in a NW’ly F4. Ten minutes after we moored up the wind was back up to a good F6 (just short of 30mph) and there it stayed more or less until we left to catch our plane!
The last ten days were not much fun with the temperature, even at night, rarely dropping below 29°C and the day time temperature regularly reaching the mid 30’s. On top of that was the wind blowing a steady F6, day and night. Whilst the decks were thoroughly washed down little else was possible in such strong winds. We even struggled with drying the much needed washing, having to watch it all like a hawk as even with our wonder storm pegs bits and pieces would break free in just a few minutes.
The heat and wind seemed to put a damper on what had been a most fantastic three-month cruise; everything had gone so well and we had had an absolute ball covering practically all the spots we wished to plus a few new ones to boot. On our return to the UK and being asked “how did it go” we had to curb the inclination to tell folk about the irritating last ten days, rather than the most enjoyable previous eighty.
The journey home was a delight. Aghios was left at a very sociable 09.00 on one of the comfy coach style air-conditioned buses to catch a new EasyJet lunchtime flight direct to Bristol rather than the usual Gatwick from where we were kindly collected by No. 2 Son Stuart mid-afternoon. He resides with his family in nearby Weston Super Mare so a stop was made there for a glass of wine with them all in the garden and a very nice glazed salmon and salad supper after which Stuart drove us home.
The house was fine, all the building work necessitated by the oil leak had been completed and all that was left for us to do was to reposition all our ornaments, pictures and the like. It had been a close call though as the cleaners had only finished the night before and the lounge carpet was still a little damp. Richard Morgan the builder had done a brilliant job. At a glance it was impossible to work out which of the 150 year old joists that show below the ground floor ceiling he had replaced or exactly where he had hacked plaster off the walls and replaced it; the only clue on the latter was the absence of picture hooks where there had previously been some. On top of that he was faced with trying to find replacement wood strip flooring for the quite large expanse of our landing that we have fitted out as a secondary lounge as it sits under a couple of large Velux roof lights on the south side of the house thus giving us naturally warm sun-soaked afternoons in early Spring and late Autumn. The wood was Parana Pine and that is now no longer harvested or so it would appear. Even recycled used flooring could not be found. But after several weeks of searching he did find and suggested a reclaimed Pitch Pine floor and when we saw the finished product on arrival home we were absolutely delighted; its rich but light colour and its grainy and knotty character is perfect.
The garden was also fine if a little wilder than we might have expected. It had clearly been good Spring weather for growing and Rose, our gardener, had struggled to keep on top of it. But with just a few hours of input from us the over growth was soon cut back and the tigers moved on.
Richard had spent some time over winter pruning last year’s growth on our vines to give cover to our north-west boundary previously provided by a huge solarnum we removed the previous summer and shade over the arbour as it grew this year. That is a huge success but there was an even larger surprise result a never before seen phenomenal crop of grapes; thousands of them! Impractical thoughts of treading the results in the bath after picking them in October and laying down our own wine sprung unrealistically to Richard’s mind.
So here we are; Charlie’s consultant has been seen as has a new to us and very nice Palliative Care consultant as well as our GP. All have contributed there bit to deciding, including us, that despite Charlie’s increased discomfort she is surprisingly well. As some will already know her oncologist when asked by Richard “I know it’s difficult to say but where are we with ‘it’ Liz?” meaning “how long have we got”. Her reply, perhaps strangely, gave our morale quite a lift. “I have absolutely no idea. You know we should not have been able to have this meeting (meaning Charlie should not be here). Your cancer (Charlie) has not read the rule book.” A précis of her way of telling us ‘it’ is not doing what it is supposed to and appears to be moving very slowly, if at all, rather than speedily as the book says it should and in fact as it did back in the Spring of 2008 when we were given an ‘all clear for a year or so’ that turned into Charlie becoming critically ill in just six weeks. Are we complaining? Certainly not!
A further CT scan has been done the results of which are awaited and will continue to be so until after we return from Norway where we are off to now! Good bye.
E From Aboard 2010/8
Our summation of six superb days spent in Norway is:-
Breathtakingly beautiful? Almost unbelievably.
Surprisingly expensive? Most certainly.
Friendly and welcoming? Exceptionally so.
It was not just the breathtaking beauty of the huge mountains, many with near vertical faces plunging down into the crystal clear waters of an equally deep fjord, nor the incredible number of waterfalls that cascade over the cliffs from the high plateaus above forming, as they do, all the fast running rivers and streams, but smaller, less obvious delights that added significantly to our wonderment. Trees are so plentiful you almost miss the fact they are there; it is no wonder so many of the buildings use or are beautifully constructed in timber. The air, particularly in the fjords and mountains is so clear and clean; perfect for photography and even sound travels untroubled by pollution for many miles. The water tastes so different; surely it must be treated but there was no sign of that in any of the jugs of tap water we were to consume as the water had a crisp clean flavour to it.
We flew from Bristol courtesy of KLM. Unfortunately, that had to be via Amsterdam, otherwise both flights were fine though our descent into Bergen did cause some concern when the captain put on the seat-belt sign early, explaining that “with the showers around, turbulence could be expected.” He then asked the crew to sit down and strap themselves in; a quick look outside explained it all, showers my foot, we were descending through thunder clouds and that is generally to be avoided at all costs but we landed safely and on time at 22.30. Having travelled with just hand luggage and finding no border control at all we boarded the express bus outside the terminal at 22.40; twenty minutes later we were in the centre of Bergen, overall that being a shorter time than it takes to clear through a UK airport let alone reach your destination. Fortunately for us it had stopped raining by then allowing us to walk at a leisurely pace along the waterfront the 200m to our hotel. On drawing the curtains back in our room to admire the view across the harbour to Bryggen, the Old Quarter of Bergen imagine our surprise at seeing it was once again absolutely chucking it down. Aeolus was smiling on us yet again.
We were in no rush to rise the following morning and just a tad disappointed to note that the skies were still grey and a showery picture prevailed; even the funicular railway that stretches up the tree-lined hillside above the city to reach the nearby mountain-top viewpoint was shrouded in cloud. After a fairly sumptuous breakfast, undeterred and determined to enjoy our visit whatever the weather, we set out, folding umbrella clutched firmly in hand, to find the railway station and then explore Bryggen and imbibe our habitual morning coffee.
As we passed through the nearby main square and reached the beginning of Bergen’s new rapid transit system (it’s a tram says Richard!) it started to rain quite heavily. The tram-stop enclosure was a useful shelter full of information which was soon being studied with interest by Richard (he is after all a bit of a train anorak). A very nice young lady then interrupted asking, in perfect English, if she could help us at all. She worked for the tram company and her job with an accompanying young man was to help and advise anyone who appeared to need it. This was not actually our first taste of Norwegian cheery and helpful hospitality but is the perfect example of an apparently common approach to visitors. So, Charlie suggested boarding the tram that arrived whilst we were browsing, ride the line to its end and get off at the train station (one stop from where we were) on our return (who’s the anorak?). The journey took just 45 minutes and not only kept us out of the rain but provided the first sight of a fjord and the tree-covered, mountainous nature of Norway as well as an informative a peek at Norwegian’s everyday lifestyle. The fare was equitable at around £2.50 each, each way. It was a good example of their well organised society we were to see plenty of. The train station provided another.
Richard’s plan was to ride the Bergen railway the following day, itself a wonder, as far as Myrdal, 866m (approx 3,000ft) up in the mountains and there to pick up the world famous Flamsbana (another train for the non-anoraks) down its tortuous route that descends the 866m in just 20kms to Flam at the head of Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord, where another hotel had been pre-booked for two nights after which he thought it would be fun to jump on a ferry that would traverse the 200kms of the fjord and the island infested coastline, back to Bergen. On asking the Norwegian State Railway ticket lady how that might be achieved she responded, “I can book all that for you, here and now” and she did.
With tickets for the two train and one ferry journeys clutched in hand, it was then a short walk through a pedestrianised local shopping area flanked on both sides by mainly older and architecturally interesting buildings to the harbour area where the fish market was found buzzing with folk buying produce to take home or to eat right there at bench-style tables. As you might expect for Norway, there were more varieties of fish than you could imagine existed including hundreds upon hundreds of crabs and lobsters of all types, including the legs of the enormous giant spider crab of the deep.
A few more strides found us enjoying Bryggen that sits on Bergen’s waterfront and what a joy it is. The higgledy-piggledy nature of its totally wooden buildings and wood-paved streets is fascinating and we were to return later for a drink on the front and dinner in one of the many timber framed restaurants, bars and cafes tucked away in its back streets. Fire being an ever present risk, smoking is forbidden anywhere, including on the streets.
That evening, after sampling some of the excellent local beer on the by then busy and sun-soaked water front where visiting yachts abound, we had an excellent if expensive dinner at which we sampled reindeer for the first time. Whilst waiting for what we had ordered we reflected on our fascinating first day in Bergen and admired the simple but interesting nature of the building within which we were sitting; the photo perhaps replaces the need for further description. Our subsequent delight in this new-to-us meat was partly due to its flavour and texture and partly to an excellent chef. The cut of the meat was probably a filet farced with local goats’ cheese (farced is an ancient word for ‘stuffed’ from the French which ultimately ended up providing our modern word of ‘farce’ as in a type of comedy play – surprising what Google can find out for you). Meanwhile, the filet was rare and unlike beef filet, just melted in the mouth almost as would ice cream, it was so tender. Its flavour is difficult to describe, mild gamey might be nearest with a hint of liver flavour; one thing is certain, once tasted, more is desired. The goats’ cheese which was the consistency and colour of dark brown thick mustard, Richard was not so sure about but a smearing of it certainly complimented the Reindeer as did the mushroom sauce it was served with. We were to discover later the goats cheese is that colour and consistency as brown sugar is added during its manufacture
The meal consisted of a main course each, a shared sweet and a bottle of fairly average French Syrah; the bill came to a whopping Kr1,235, about £135, the mains being £40 each and the wine the same. Norway is not cheap; a comparable meal back home would be £65.
A good night’s sleep was had after our sumptuous meal and was rewarded by awakening next morning to a clear blue sky. This added to our eager anticipation over what the day’s rail journey might have in store for us. Expecting a bun fight for seats on the 10.28 Bergen to Oslo express, arrival at the station was achieved by 09.30 allowing ample time for the requisite morning coffee. Had Richard studied the near indecipherable Norwegian tickets he would have discovered a little earlier that included in the overall ticket prices of Kr2,300 (around £250) for the train and express ferry rides, were booked seats on the train as far as Myrdal. The seats and coaches were very comfortable for standard class with much more leg room than one now experiences on UK Intercity trains with their similar aircraft style seating.
The train departed precisely on time with Richard drooling with anticipation over what was to come; his nose was almost glued to the huge panoramic window. The first couple of minutes were slow as the train picked its way through and across the multiple tracks around the station throat and its associated goods facilities to reach the single track mainline to Oslo. Almost as soon as that was achieved and speed picked up, the train plunged into the darkness of a 5km tunnel, the first of many. On exiting, the vista of a beautiful fjord was glimpsed through the multitudinous trees to the port side of the train; unfortunately, or so we thought, we were sitting on the starboard side. The first half-an-hour or so had us craning our necks to enjoy these fleeting glimpses caught between tunnels and the lattice framework of timber framed cages, constructed to protect the track and trains from rock falls or heavy snow build-ups. But then, after a particularly long tunnel, the train burst out into a gloriously lush valley and we realised that we had already climbed well up from sea level and were now wending our way around the port side of successive mountain valleys often following the course of mountain streams and rivers down which millions of gallons of melted snow and rainfall relentlessly tumbled. The lady who booked our trip must have known the starboard side of the train would be best and it was.
All to soon Myrdal station was reached; though nearly two hours had passed it seemed like just a few minutes. The station is little more than three tracks and two platforms squeezed between two long tunnels and perched on a cliff side 866m above sea level. Access is by crossing the tracks thus if there is a train in the Flam branch platform you cannot exit from the station or gain access to it. Strange.
As we descended from the train to the low-level platform and crossed the intervening track to the island platform of the branch line, the vista of the upper reaches of the Flam valley opened up before us as did the branch line track diving down at a staggering gradient for a railway line into yet another of the timber framed tunnels. By now we were drunk with delight at all the magnificent scenery and intriguing railways.
Talking of drunk, the platform-bound cafe which is stuffed with black and white photos of the construction of the railway and its early stock, served us a very good white wine albeit at £6.50 per small glass; we were going to have to get used to the cost of alcohol in Norway. An hour was passed reflecting on the joys of our trip so far before the branch line train appeared like a large green worm rising from its hole in the ground. By now the platform was packed with passengers from our train and one that arrived from Oslo; a bun fight for seats seemed inevitable this time. It was, but Charlie easily found us a couple of good seats in the beautifully restored 1960’s carriages of this now privately run branch line railway.
The train is composed of six internally wood-lined coaches with a powerful electric engine at either end (that’s just for you other anoraks). It is easy to understand why it is fitted with five separate braking systems as, in the days of steam when this railway was built, a gradient of 1:100 was considered steep, on this line the ruling gradient is an amazing 1:18. Within seconds of our departure the brakes were screaming as we ground our way round the surprisingly tight curves of this frighteningly steep railway, hanging as it does for much of its length to the side of a one cliff or another; disappearing into a rock face only to appear, as in one case, several 100 feet further down but travelling in precisely the opposite direction, the tunnel having been driven through the mountain in one huge loop. The mind boggles at the engineering required and the toil of the manpower it needed to achieve it.
Several stops were made for photo opportunities and one to pass the other train set coming up from Flam. The best of these was perhaps at the Kjofossen waterfall (see photo) where the wood nymphs appeared and tried to lure passengers away from the train and into their fairy-like existence. If you study the photo carefully you will see one. But don’t look too closely, it is said they can catch even you! The waterfall’s power is harnessed by a small hydro-electric scheme that provides enough electricity to power the railway itself. The journey continued with several more photo opportunities albeit without disembarking. A couple of shots are included in attempt to convey the beauty of the valley. The unnamed waterfall is one of many seen and marvelled at; it drops vertically around 200m before crashing into the stream at the bottom, but the photo does it little justice.
The 20km descent took just on an hour and the last couple of kilometres were stunning, the line following, as it does, a river all the way down and latterly squeezing between the near shear 300m (1,000’) mountain sides either side of this most picturesque valley to the fjord’s head where Flam sits. Originally Flam was just a convenient place for ships to dock within reach of the Bergen railway, which is why the branch line was built. Today it remains little more than a railhead and a couple of quays where you will find local ferries of all sizes and the largest of cruise liners that have made their way up the 200kms of the Sognefjord to reach it. It heaves all day long with tourists brought there not just for the beauty of the fjord but to ride the Flamsbana. Thousands each day ride up and down the line providing plenty of trade for the numerous gift shops, the two hotels and several cafes and restaurants as well as the railway and its excellent and informative museum.
The famous Fretheim hotel where we were to spend two nights is very modern if a bit Spartan in its internal appearance. The older part of the hotel is less so and has been nicely refurbished. The history of the hotel is displayed in the reception area lounge in the form of hand written guest books and ledgers which it was possible to read as much was written in English as well as a beautifully restored pony trap that once carried Norwegian Royals from the train to a battleship moored at the quay that they were to board.
Having arrived in the early afternoon we just dropped our bags and rushed back out into the sunshine to explore our surroundings and marvel at the fjord and the mountains that surround it. A huge cruise liner was moored at the quay as well as two or three costal ferries, all of which brought customers for the Flamsbana. The engineer who designed it and whose enthusiasm finally persuaded the Norwegian government the scheme was possible, could never have imagined the line would today carry 10-15 times the numbers his business plan was based upon.
Whilst wandering around this relatively confined railhead and quay area, Charlie spotted a desk and covered area advertising a “Fjord Safari”. To Richard’s amazement and almost before she knew what it involved, she wanted to do it. A booking was made for the following morning and a two and a half hour trip around Aurlslandfjord and Naeroyfjord in a high speed rib. “It had better be good” thought Richard as it cost Kr1,000 (£110). It was.
On returning in the morning we were kitted out for the trip; the entire garb proved to be very necessary, not to keep you dry but to keep you warm. It did not detract from the enjoyment to come in any way. Off we went at around 40knts and a few miles down the fjord stopped opposite a small patch of far from level waterside pasture within which sits a near derelict timber cabin. Our young guide leapt down from his driving position behind us and sat on the side of the rib to explain. “This is a Spring farm. The farmer would row his wife, goats and horses across from the winter farm and village the other side of the fjord once the snow had gone and she would allow the goats to graze, milk them and make cheese from it whilst he tended the winter farm. As summer approached he would return and help his wife escort or lift by rope all the goats and horses straight up the (almost sheer) mountain side to the summer farm on the pastures 3-500m above. In the autumn the process was reversed and in the meantime the husband would periodically collect the cheese and sell it to others residing along the fjord shoreline”. Our guide was charming and very articulate and, like most Norwegian’s it would seem, spoke absolutely perfect English.
The safari continued in much the same vein for nearly three hours during which we learnt more of fjord life and soaked more of the beauty of this country and its charming people; hopefully the attached photos and their captions will say more than any written word can though “the Hotel on the hill” provides a little story. It was a farm and in this case, an all the year round farm despite its remote location. After the 2nd world war farming soon ceased and it became a private residence which is remarkable as the only way up the initial bluff from the fjord was by ladder, a factor that added to its advantages as when the tax man cometh, the ladder was withdrawn! The current owners have blasted a pathway up the initial bluff and converted its use to that of an hotel. It is totally self-sufficient in produce and it takes between one and two hours to climb up there depending on just how fit you are; there is no road access at all. If you can magnify the photo you will see two people struggling up with the rucksacks on their backs.
The two days and nights we spent in Flam were an absolute delight. We walked a mile or so up the valley and took a photo looking back towards the head of the fjord attempting, we think without success, to capture the magnitude of the surrounding mountains and the beauty of the valley within which Flam sits. The cliff face behind Charlie is some 500m (1,650’) but it doesn’t look it. The typical timber built houses were quite charming and hopefully look so in the photo. The most remarkable thing about our little walk was the picking, and eating of course, of fresh raspberries along the side of the road. The canes were growing wild and in quite some abundance along the grass verges.
We also ate ourselves silly with some gorgeous buffet breakfasts and even better buffet suppers. The choice of smoked meats and fish at the Fretheim were terrific and prepared on site and it is one of the few places in this world that can produce bulk scrambled egg that is not like concrete; we like ours soft and that was how it was. And the bacon, well, Richard piled his plate with numerous rashers and it took all his will power to resist seconds; or was it thirds he resisted? But the other major hotels buffet where we ate the second evening, was even better; their choice of salmon alone was unbelievable; three or four different varieties of smoked and the same of un-smoked. One of the smoked varieties was steeped in beer, a most unlikely combination but a delight to the palate. And talking of beer, they even have a small brewery that is housed in a traditional timber church type structure and serves as a bar as well as an off licence; licensing laws are strict in Norway and you cannot buy alcohol from any shop on a Sunday. At its centre and we should have photographed both but didn’t, is a circular well with stools around the surrounding balustrading and bench seats around its lower level perimeter, all facing the central wood burning open fire; very Viking in appearance and undoubtedly it drew on that in its design. Neither Richard nor Charlie are beer drinkers but both consumed their fair share during the trip, several being from this brewery. Most are light in character but are so full of flavour; it became a daily pastime for Richard.
All too soon it was time to leave Flam and we boarded the high speed catamaran ferry of Fjord1, the oldest ferry company in Norway, for our five and a half hour trip back to Bergen. That provided even more opportunities to enjoy the splendour of the fjords and that of the costal islands we passed through, having traversed the 100 plus miles of the Sognefjord.
During the trip we began to understand the background to one of the local sayings about Bergen “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes; it will change”. We had brilliant sunlight, no wind and flat sea, strong winds and choppy sea but not what we would call rough, rain, high-level cloud, low-level cloud shrouding the mountain tops above which some of the peaks stretched their necks, and fog. It was all great and as we left the fjords we perhaps felt that would be the end of the dramatic scenery but it wasn’t. The boat continued at its cruising speed that Richard guessed at around 35knots whilst it weaved, and we mean weaved, between the numerous low lying islands there are off the coast. It did slow down to about 15knots to pass through a few gaps, one of which Richard photographed in amazement dwelling on the fact he would have been nervous about taking Charlie Girl IV through never mind a huge ferry.
After what had been a long and absorbing day the ferry pulled into its berth at around 21.00 where we disembarked and staggered the 50m to our hotel. That was another stroke of luck over our bookings; we had no idea that was where the ferries ran to and from.
For the next day and a half we just soaked up the pleasures of Bergen, including more beer; walking around the area of the harbour, in and out of its colourful back streets discovering other little treasures including a very nostalgic trip for Richard, on the Fluebanen, the funicular railway.
At the tender age of 10 in 1952 and well before the days of package holidays abroad for all, his parents took him on a cruise on P&O’s Chusan. He has always wondered just how his father managed to save the money that it must have cost as they never borrowed money and he never earned more than £20 a week in his life. That trip made a huge and lasting impression on Richard’s then young mind and was perhaps the major reason for wanting to return and share the delight he barely understood with Charlie. As one might expect the funicular railway was one of the highlights he remembered quite well as well as his early attempt at fraternising with the opposite sex. He is sure that it was this cruise that fired up his desire to do well enough in life to afford more such travel experiences.
The stock has changed three times since those days and is now super modern. In the tunnel leading to the lower platform there are pictures of the previous stock including the originals that Richard rode in all those years ago. Will he ever grow up – probably not? Again the Norwegian brilliant organisation shone through; what we thought was a queue that would have us waiting for hours was dispersed in no time at all and within half an hour of deciding to ride we were at the top absorbing the phenomenal view across Bergen and its surroundings. It really brings home just how much of the land is penetrated by waterways.
On our last evening we just had to return to Bryggen Tracteursted for another slice of reindeer but before that we had a simple and intriguing lunch with them. The easiest way of describing it would be to say mezze. The menu suggests you order three or four different dishes which they then serve with a basket of local breads. We chose crab claws, smoked mackerel, sardines and a smoked ham; that and a glass of wine made the most perfect lunch sat in their courtyard sheltering from the very strong sunlight.
Our flight home was not until 17.30 the following day allowing us plenty of time to walk some more and to ride back from the end of the peninsula to the fish market in a cute little 19th century ferry boat (see photo). The conversation with the ferryman was fascinating and interesting; his comment on the forthcoming Iron Maiden concert that could be heard warming up in a nearby park for most of the day, suggested there are differences between various Norwegians just as there are between Welsh, Scots and English. “You know when there is a concert like that on. It is the only time you see folk from north Norway”. We later discovered just how popular Iron Maiden are when the main tourist building put up notices advising that there were absolutely no rooms of any sort left available in the Bergen area. What was even more interesting was the little boats means of propulsion; a fuel cell powered by hydrogen and sea water, not that he was completely happy with it as the weight of the batteries he now carries reduced his carrying licence from twenty passengers to sixteen.
From there we wandered round, yet again, to Bryggen for another beer and a glass of wine and to seek something different for lunch. Fish and chips, Norwegian style at a mere £11.00 a portion. It was very good even though it was nearer breadcrumb coated cod than battered.
All too soon it was time to collect our bags from the hotel and catch the airport express coach from the fish market. We sorely underestimated the time required for the journey in that it took nigh on an hour compared with the twenty minutes on our arrival. Still, we hurried into the terminal, up the escalator, had a slight delay at security whilst they checked our authority to carry Charlie’s drugs, again saw no border control whatsoever and arrived at our departure gate just in time to walk first on to the plane. The flight to Amsterdam, our two hour stop there and flight to Bristol were perfect in all respects and by mid-evening we were safely home once again. It has been a trip of a lifetime and we were still breathless with excitement.
An update on Charlie’s condition
The following afternoon we met with Sarah Human, Charlie’s Palliative Care Consultant, who had the written part of the CT Scan results but not the pictures; from what she said we deduced there may not be bad news to come the next morning at 09.00 on Friday the 13th for our appointment with Liz Toy, Charlie’s oncologist. We are not superstitious, much, but if anything was going to blow that myth away Liz’s news was. She took great delight in explaining that the expression in the report “subtle changes” meant the cancer’s advance was so small as to be immeasurable. Can you imagine our surprise and delight?
Time was spent with Liz discussing future options but the summation of that was her saying “I’m going to take my lead from you Charlie and will see you if and when you need me.” Until then let’s make an appointment for a check up just after you get back from your boat; will the 1st of November be OK?” What do you think folks?
E From Aboard 2010/9
Flying out from Bristol was a delight. Getting up more or less as usual, morning tea, a bath, breakfast and checking all was in order before jumping in Rod’s car around 10.30 for a lift down to Newton Abbot station to catch the 11.03 for Bristol and then the airport coach from there to the airport; all achieved without hassle by 13.00. Despite the high level of controlled drugs in the hand luggage, all 26 kilos of it were soon through security and after a relaxing lunch and boarding the aircraft, stowed in the lockers above the seats; we had no other baggage. Touch down at Heraklion was just after 21.00 local time and from where A2B us of to Aghios Nikolaos Marina where CGIV was boarded at just after 22.30 (20.30 UK time); around ten hours in all.
After tea on deck the next morning, the hose was out, complete with mop, bucket and scrubber (brush that is, not Charlie) to give CGIV a good clean. The weather was temperate and the wind light. From then on it was all downhill for a few days. Charlie woke up the following morning feeling decidedly unwell. The conclusion was a bug picked up on the plane and that antibiotics were called for. A check call home to Charlie’s GP supported that decision but by Saturday morning Charlie was even worse. Richard feared anaemia as there seemed to be no real symptoms of flu or a similar type bug. A further phone call to our neighbour GP, Colin, confirmed it could well be anaemia; a grave danger if found to be so. That brought on Charlie’s greatest dread, a trip to the local hospital for a blood test and check over. That was done and the blood test confirmed slight anaemia but no more than her usual level. Anaemia was not the cause of the problem and the doctor could find nothing wrong with her. He prescribed rest.
Sitting back on the boat both were relieved and worried; what the hell was wrong? Later it dawned on Charlie that she had not taken any Pregablin since arriving on Wednesday night. Another phone call at 17.00 to endearing neighbourhood help, Colin, confirmed the most likely cause was severe withdrawal symptoms. “Chuck a pill down her throat, quickly and another one at bedtime. She’ll sleep well but the double dose will do her no harm.” A few minutes after the first dose all was rapidly returning to normal and by the following morning everything was back to normal, excepting morale.
The affect of the incident was disproportionate to its importance. By lunch time the beloved boat had been sold and sailing given up forever; perhaps not so surprising a reaction for Charlie as for Richard: why should he wish to give it up? Some serious talking took place resulting in the conclusion neither really wanted to extend the stay in Aghios Nikolaos on expiry of the five-year contract in December. Amazing as both adore the place. But all in all Charlie just cannot cope with the challenges of the wind and weather around Crete anymore and if Charlie can’t, where is the pleasure in it for Richard? A move to the Ionian was muted, discussed and became a mutual decision that brought relief to both if not the bank balance; it was going to be more expensive. The early months of the year will similarly not be so attractive as it is colder and wetter in the Ionian than on Crete. Nonetheless the only question remaining was when and how.
Mentioning all this and Charlie’s reluctance to move during the current stay or to tackle the 400nm trek to her beloved Ionian even for one last time, to Peter and Henry brought an instant reaction from them both. “We’ll take Charlie Girl up for you, either in November or in March.” It was a kind, genuine and readily acceptable offer, typical of their generosity. All that needed further discussion was ‘when’ as we needed to make berthing arrangements.
All this brought on a disturbed night’s sleep for Richard during which his two remaining operational brain cells actually collided, albeit by a chance, producing a cogent thought. Richard had previously said to Charlie, “if you don’t want to do the trip in the Spring, I’ll take her up and you can fly up or ferry it”. He thought to himself, “there are six weeks plus left of this trip, why not do so now and get at least five weeks in the Ionian!” The subject was broached over morning tea, agreed and arrangements made before lunchtime.
Throughout the eons of time there has been friction between the land gods and those of the wind and sea. Greek mythology suggests the wind and sea gods have had a long-standing working relationship, one happily feeding off the other on their wanderings around the world. But these land god chappies’ rocky obstructions impede their progress. This particularly irritates the wind gods who are thus forced to hurry up over and around them. The sea gods have similar difficulty with the underwater foundations of these obstructions which cause them to have to bunch up and rush over the resultant rising sea bed. The nett result is collusion between the wind and sea gods, particularly around headlands, where they combine to impose the maximum punishment on the land gods and their intrusions. They see to it that these unwanted intrusions receive the full weight of their wrath; the wind force doubling or even trebling and the sea state becoming particularly violent.
The Mediterranean has a plethora of such intrusions, of which four major ones have to be rounded between Aghios Nikolaos and the Ionian. Richard was going to need the support of the Greek patron saint of seafarers, St Nikolaos (and you thought he was Father Christmas) and the Greek King of the wind gods, Aeolus, particularly as his disciple Boreas, the North West wind, is favoured to blow from the Ionian in the summer and as the trip is north west it is not a journey to be contemplated by gentlemen; the saying being ‘gentlemen do not sail to windward’ “Ah well, I wasn’t born a gentleman........” thinks Richard. It was going to be hairy trip but two of the internet weather sites suggested it would not be too bad if a start was made on Saturday the 18th or Sunday and took no more than five days though Richard had not considered how much St Nikolaos might object to their desertion of his favoured place or how much his mythological counterparts might support that objection. But he was going to find out.
All looked well enough for departure on Saturday morning and, after the usual last minute shopping, was achieved at 11.10. Richard found it strange and a little hard to leave Charlie standing on the pontoon waving him away.
Soon all the fenders and warps were stowed and a course set for the first cape Ak Ay Ioannis some 10nms down track. The forecast wind was due West F3-4 which would put it smack on the nose once the cape was rounded and could be expected to produce ghastly seas and much stronger wind on the rounding. It didn’t. It was a little worse but as the cape was left 10nms behind the wind veered to NW’ly at a steady 10nts (just F4). The main was raised which steadied the boat in the lumpy sea and added half-a-knot to the motoring speed. Nisos Dhia was the target for the night and was within sight by around 17.00. As the conditions were easier than expected Richard decided to push on to Bali which was reached well after dark at 21.00. It had been a lovely afternoon and evening adding to the enjoyment of a pre-prepared curry supper consumed on deck as the sun sank slowly in a reddened sky to the west ahead and a half-moon sneakily rose in the darkening sky to the east astern. It was a scene that sailing films and books are made of and did much for Richard’s sprits.
60nms in the day, just 6nms sailed.
After a relaxing night at anchor in no wind and little swell to have CGIV rolling, an expected negative at Bali, tea was made and departure achieved at 06.30 with the sun peeking up of the distant island of Dhia (see sunrise photo). The island of Gramvousa was the day’s target, 85nms away. Set as it is some 10nms south west of Ak Sparthi the most north-westerly tip of Crete and the next rounding challenge it usually produces vicious seas and winds of F6 and above. But that was for later in the day. In the meantime some gentle sailing was enjoyed; some with engine assistance and some without.
On approaching the cape the wind whipped round onto the bow but at a temperate F4 and the sea rose a little but was by no means threatening. Very odd. As the cape was cleared the wind settled at a steady 10-12knots from the south-west, smack on the nose for Gramvoussa, still 10nms and an hour and a half away in the wrong direction; this was particularly irritating, the next target being Kithera 45nms to the north-west. It was 17.00hrs, darkness would come at around 20.00, at 6knts Kapsali on Kithera could be reached by 00.30 and the forecast for the following day was awful. “I’ll go now and see if some can be sailed” thought Richard. It was a decision he was to regret for most of the night.
Good progress was made for 25nm, much under sail with some engine assistance; then the wind dropped and thus the speed. With Andi Kithera (Little Kithera) sharp on the horizon exchanges by text between Charlie and Richard started and during the exchanges the wind died, Richard put the sails away and motored on into an unexpected and unexplained rising sea state. By the time Andi Kithera was abeam the wind had risen to a good F6 and the seas were frighteningly steep; it was also pitch dark with cloud now obscuring the three-quarter full moon. “They set a trap for me and I’ve walked into it” thought Richard as a sea broke over the bow and charged gleefully down the deck, only stopped from filling the cockpit and soaking Richard by the spray hood in its way. The next huge wave violently knocked CGIV sidewise. Richard attached his harness and became somewhat concerned. “The wind is strong but this sea fits a full gale, not a Force 6 wind” he thought.
All this was withheld from the text exchanges which concluded with Charlie wishing Richard “good speed and a good night’s sleep when you get to Kapsali”. Richard responded likewise and as he did so the engine died accompanied by a huge unidentified bang and the wind rising further to 25knts plus (F6 gusting near gale F7). With no engine and all sails furled CGIV was soon lying across the seas and being rolled dangerously in the, by now, consistently huge breaking waves. For the first time in his life real fear struck at his heart.
As natural survival instincts kicked in Richard rapidly but carefully pulled out the mainsail, heavily reefed and stretched flat; a difficult enough exercise in daylight, a literal nightmare in the pitch dark and these conditions. The auto pilot was set a course 60° off the wind but responded with ‘no data available’. “What the hell does that mean? What else broke in that bang?” As the thoughts ran threw his mind his fear rose even further; he noted he was shaking.
After a few minutes struggling with the helm he managed to get CGIV moving in roughly the right direction and tried the auto pilot again; this time it kicked in and took over the helm. “Thank God for that small mercy” he thought. Raising a reefed genoa was more difficult with the traveller having to be adjusted to suit the reduced sail and took nigh on a quarter of an hour to achieve just by listening to the sail and continually modifying the various settings until it stopped flapping. By now Richard was physically exhausted and needed a sit down. In so doing he reflected on the realisation that CGIV had risen to the challenge and was sailing perfectly at 28° to the wind (an improvement on any previous daylight performance) and was comfortably making 6-7knts; he relaxed and smiled to himself. The seas still came over the bow from time to time but the potential knockdowns became rarer. His fear receded.
“OK, where the hell I am heading. There are loads of small islands and reefs between me and Kithera.” It was time to go below and navigate.
Kapsali was still a good 12nms distant plus whatever it would take to tack back and make it. “I don’t fancy trying to sail her in there; it’s too tight: no margin for error: a loss of wind or a gust in the wrong direction and I’m on the rocks. Ormos Nikolaos on the eastern side of the island looks favourite. On the present course it will only need a 3nm tack back and with a 3nm beach to aim at anchoring off should be easy; then I can work on the engine in peace and calm water.” That became the plan with an eta off the beach of around 01.30. An hour later the wind dropped dramatically, then steadily reduced further to zero; fortunately the sea reduced in proportion but CGIV was now becalmed 8nms from the nearest land with no engine and no wind.
All reefs in the sails were shaken out and the full sails allowed to flap in the remaining swell. With the auto pilot set on a direct course for the bay almost imperceptibly slow progress was thereby made; less than half a knot. It was time to attempt an engine repair; the fault thought to be sludge from dirty diesel having blocked a section of pipe or one of the two inline filters.
Three hours later after both diesel filters had been replaced and all the pipe work between the tank and the engine removed and flushed through, she still would not start. Going up on deck to think about ‘what next’ in the now strongly moon lit night, its reflected light shimmering romantically across the now near flat calm sea, imagine Richard’s surprise at finding a huge ferry stationary and silent not 100ms off his stern. As CGIV’s navigation lights had failed during the initial drama perhaps she thought CGIV was adrift and available as a good bit of salvage. Richard disengaged the auto pilot and put the helm put hard a lee so CGIV would slowly rotate. The ferry soon re-started her engines and steamed off into the night leaving a sparkling moon lit wake to mark her passage. No assistance did she offer.
The only part that Richard had not removed and checked was the top mounting plate of the pre-filter assembly. It was his last hope. Being in a nigh on inaccessible position it took an hour to remove, check over and replace. That done and all pipe work, filters etc primed with fresh diesel the engine reluctantly started and after a few spells of near failure, provided normal power. Richard’s relief and feeling of achievement totally suppressed his tiredness.
It was now 04.30 and as the moon had set it was pitch black again; picking a way through the off-lying islands and reefs between his position and Kapsali some 7nms distant was going to be nerve wracking. “You must be very tired. Concentrate.” he thought “double check everything”. He did and using an early returning fisherman as some guidance on the last 2nms, crept into the unlit harbour at 05.45, 24 hours after he had last slept. Checking the depths regularly and peering desperately to each side and ahead to make sure he was not making a crucial error in his quite exhausted state and, on entering what seemed to be a much altered harbour since the last visit, motoring round to check depths for a clear swinging circle, the anchor was dropped and Richard was soon thereafter sound asleep in his bunk.
109nms in the day; 30nms sailed: a total 169nms and about half way.
On awakening at 08.30 imagine his surprise at finding he was not in the main harbour but the fisherman’s harbour adjacent to it. The depths in there were supposed to be no more than 1.5m; clearly the pilot was incorrect as CGIV would have grounded with a draft of 1.65m. Richard laughed to himself at the potentially dangerous mistake and was happy that his care on entry had ensured it was not as well as noting this harbour offered better protection.
It was a lovely morning and the 09.40 navtex forecast predicted an almost helpful wind for the next shorter leg to Porto Kayiou just 3nms north of the notorious cape Ak Tainaron the rounding of which could await the following morning when the wind and sea should be calmer than in late afternoon. Before leaving the bulb in the forward navigation lights was changed and found working.
After clearing the south end of Kithera the sails were raised in a comforting west-south-westerly light breeze; by midday it seemed appropriate to celebrate with a small glass of wine. Regrettably progress became inadequate as the wind veered and rose forcing the donkey to be engaged to maintain the required course for the remaining distance.
Porto Kayiou has been visited many times and is anything but a harbour; it is just a near all-round protected bay where the prevailing wind is westerly and always blows twice what it does over the open sea to the peninsula’s west. Today was no different and the anchor was dropped in the usual place but in the knowledge that they have a nasty habit of turning the wind overnight to blow from the north-east, the only direction from which the port becomes a potential problem, particularly as the holding is not all that it could be. No such change was forecast but allowed for nonetheless.
A further chicken curry was consumed on deck with a further glass of wine as night-time gently, if windily, closed around the six yachts at anchor. With the anchor light on and drag alarm set Richard took to his bed after all three were completed.
Another 34nms completed, disappointingly only 10nms under sail.
The drag alarm went off at 04.00. It was no real surprise as Richard had been aware in his sleep that the wind had changed as CGIV was gently pitching up and down in a rising swell that could only have come from outside the bay. The alarm had been set for 40m and with that much chain out a swing round in the wind would be bound to set it off. It had.
“Wind with north and east in it is going to make rounding the cape a doddle. Let’s go!” thinks Richard. A cup of tea is soon made, the anchor raised and, for safety’s sake, the sails left furled to motor the three miles down to the cape in the pitch dark. It was rounded with ease and again the navigation lights failed! With a good breeze the sails were raised and what promised to be a good sail started. The sails would also make CGIV more readily visible, not that there were any ships or boats nearby.
Regrettably, as the sky lightened with the approaching dawn, the wind died and the donkey was again engaged. Had it not been necessary there would have been enough fuel to make it to Killini; to have to motor from the cape to Pilos, the next targeted stop, made that far too risky a proposition. Refuelling at Pilos became essential if frustrating as it involved mooring up and added a few unnecessary miles to the journey. So be it.
Nonetheless it was a most enjoyable day with some fellow yachts in sight for most of the time, a pretty flat sea particularly for this stretch and a little wind to make the use of the mainsail effective in adding a little speed. With such an early start and benign conditions the 50ms to Methoni were covered by 13.00, just in time for the next radio forecast; the huge seas that pile up off its cape made listening quite difficult as CGIV crashed up and down. The temptation to turn and stop at one of the most favourite of ports was oh so strong.
The forecast for the next 24 hours was for North F5-6, just about the worst possible as due north was to be the course for the last 80nms and not realistically an option. But after passing the cape the sea was relatively benign suggesting the forecast was either downright wrong or yet to come in. “I could be in Pilos just after two; if I could fuel up quickly I’ll push on. If the wind gets up I can always stop off at Kiparissia or Katacolon; if not I’ll be off Killini by 02.30 tomorrow: the job done.” Pulling into Pilos harbour there was only one space on the quay perhaps 2m longer than CGIV, a difficult manoeuvre but she was up to it and was soon tied up. A phone call was made and after a bit bartering over delivery time, the fuel truck ordered, leaving just enough time to fix the fault with the navigation lights; a corroded contact soon rubbed down. 35 Minutes later with the tank topped up with 155lts for €220, the journey to Killini continued. Little did Richard know just how lucky he had just been.
It was a beautiful afternoon, evening and moon-lit night and the time slipped by surprisingly quickly as each of the stepping stones was passed without the wind materialising. First the island of Proti (10nms done) then Kiparissia 10nms of the starboard beam (24nms done), then a longer stretch of open water before, after night fall, the welcoming flashing light of Ak Katacolon was seen 8nms distant and fine on the starboard bow whilst a further pre-prepared curry was hungrily consumed. A little over an hour later the light was passed 5nms off the starboard beam (55nms done, 28nms to go). Then 15nms or so of open water before reaching the shallow and reefed coastline approaching Killini, traversed with extreme caution until at 02.15 the harbour was entered, passed and the beach approached, hidden as it is behind the dredger barges that have been working for the past five years to reduce the 1m depths to 8ms as part of the extension of this busy ferry port. Off the beach the depths are 2-3m and after checking the turning circle, the anchor was dropped; 133nms in the day, regrettably only 5nms sailed giving a total of 86 hours and 335nms for the trip from Aghios Nikolaos. Richard felt quite smug and pleased with his efforts, looking forward to a perhaps longer sleep and his lady’s arrival around lunch time.
At 07.00 it rained, quite heavily, requiring Richard to rise and close all the hatches before returning to sleep. Then at 08.30 the first ferries left and arrived sending a rush of swells over to the beach and rocking CGIV sufficiently to wake him again. “Enough of this; I might as well get up” he thought and did to take the usual morning tea whilst he noted with some glee that the rain had done its job: the filthy decks and hatches had been neatly cleaned. All that was needed was to wipe over the hatches with a chamois leather and CGIV would be nearly ready to receive her mistress, though the cockpit area was still ingrained with salt and sand being protected from the rain as it was by the bimini and spray hood.
Seeing a yacht leaving the inner small boat and yacht harbour told Richard there was space for him to moor up and as there was still no wind, now would be a good time to tackle it. The entrance was just 150m away and facing him. With anchor raised, fenders positioned and warps at the ready over the stern, Richard put CGIV slow ahead and pottered very gently towards the harbour keeping a loose eye on the depth. He was not sharp enough though. There is still a small area just outside the entrance that had not been dredged; he ran aground in its soft mud. It was stupid error no doubt through tiredness but equally ridiculous to have left the entrance risky to anyone who did not know. Pennywise pound foolish port authorities? Whilst CGIV was backing out, albeit slowly, under her own steam a local fisherman returning from his early morning trip offered assistance which was gratefully accepted. Unfortunately he made it a bit worse by dragging CGIV round and embedding her rudder as well. He spoke no English and Richard’s Greek was certainly not up to dealing with the situation. But hand-signals got the message across and soon all was well and CGIV successfully moored up in the harbour.
Charlie then texts with a surprise; she had missed the 06.30 bus from Athens and the 08.45 that was planned for her to catch had been cancelled due to a fuel strike involving all the main transport companies. Fuel was in short supply with many places without any, particularly diesel; Richard had been lucky to fill up at all in Pilos! She would be on the 12.15 bus that was due in sometime around 16.15 though nobody knew when, not because of the strike, they just don’t bother with scheduled etas; they might have to meet them.
Charlie had also had a distressing time at Athens bus station being passed from pillar to post by successive staff who were totally disinterested in understanding or helping her; great for the Greek economy when 60% of the bus company’s revenue allegedly comes from tourists. She wanted to buy a ticket to Killini on a bus we knew went to Killini but with their unhelpful attitude or perhaps stupidity nobody would sell her a ticket. Charlie was practically in tears before she finally found one nice chap who took the trouble to explain the stupid arrangement at the bottom of the problem; you cannot buy a ticket to Killini, you have to buy a ticket all the way through to the island of Zakinthos that involves an onward ferry journey from Killini and get off at Killini: if the driver will let you that is! That still plagued her on arrival at Killini where the driver was loath to let her get off or get her bag from the bottom of the pile in his hold.
Charlie finally arrived at about 17.30 with tales of roadblocks and pickets stopping all traffic, each of which, somehow, the bus managed to circumvent and after some negotiation with the driver collect her bag and join Richard on the quay. They had only been apart for four and a half days but it was an emotional reunion.
Due to the delay Richard had been able to wash out the cockpit and set out the cushions as normal together with the house plants thus making all look normal for Charlie’s home coming. Over a celebratory glass of wine or three, tales of their respective journeys were exchanged.
But they had not finished with them yet.
E From Aboard 2010/10
Over a quiet evening meal in one of Killini’s limited selection of tavernas the next move was decided upon; we were to make for our favourite haunts in the Ionian as soon as possible; if the weather allowed, Kioni, if not Poros on Cephalonia first, the mileage to either being manageable for Charlie. The forecast suggested Kioni would be fine and possibly a nice sail.
Rising at a sociable hour the next morning, tea was taken as usual in the warmth of the early morning sun. Kioni was to be the target. After a leisurely breakfast departure was achieved without hassle but as we steamed slowly out of the inner harbour it became apparent all was not well with the engine; it sounded like a car with a blown exhaust. We turned round and headed for the beach, taking care to avoid the troublesome shallows and dropped the hook whilst Richard investigated the probable causes; the first thought was a blocked seawater inlet as a result of the previous day’s excursion into the mud. A quick blow back through the disconnected inlet pipe soon dispelled that possibility as bubbles happily rose to the surface around the hull. It was the impeller then and that meant removing the companionway steps to access the pump housing that contained it. With a new impeller fitted, the water system primed with seawater, all was well.
We settled into a perfect sail in a gentle breeze under a clear blue sky and on a calm sea. The tree-lined mountainsides of Cephalonia to port, the dark outlines of Ithaki and Atokos ahead and the distant islands off the mainland to starboard seemed to be wrapped round CGIV bringing feelings of comfort and home-coming, particularly for Charlie.
On arrival in Kioni three sets of hands were waiting on the quay to take the lines. Each of the three greeted us with a cheery “hello Charlie Girl”. They were from boats already moored up that had seen us coming and who knew us of old; embarrassingly their faces were familiar but it took further exchanges to place them in context. It was the most unexpected but warmest of welcomes.
The intention was to stay for a few days but over night the wind turned east and south bringing an albeit minor chop and roll into the harbour that caused Richard to seek the Internet over breakfast for a weather update. Clearly they had not finished expressing their displeasure. The forecast was for southerly winds of increasing strength, and, rain! The former makes Kioni untenable, the latter is undesirable anywhere. It was time to leave and enjoy a further gentle sail north past the island of Arkoudhi and on up the beautiful Meganissi channel between that island and Levkada. Soon Little Vathi was reached and a mooring taken in the new marina. It not being so much of a surprise a similar welcome awaited us there, this time from recognised and remembered friends Rod & Pat, our Bovey neighbours, and Tony & Tessa, adjoining berth holders in Aghos Nikolaos, who we knew were there though we had not expected Steve Miler or one chap who, upon seeing the Devon flag flying, approached and asked from where we hailed. Imagine the surprise when it turned out he had bought a house in Higher Brimley just a mile up the road from our home and had left his dog with our neighbours for his two-week sailing holiday. They might not be happy with our return to the Ionian but we certainly were.
Three happy days were spent in Little Vathi, renewing old friendships, making some new ones and partying in defiance of the deteriorating weather! (See rain-spotted photo). The rain even made it on to the camera lens, hence the light spots.
From there we wandered up to Levkas marina for a night and supper with Nigel & Alison from Exmouth at Romas in the town square after which we headed further north, through ‘the gate’ (lifting bridge over the Levkas canal) for what promised to be the only time in thirty years we have managed to sail the thirty odd miles up to Gaios on Paxoi. The wind was in the east, unusual in itself, with a bit of south in it that steadily moved round to a bit of north. It was strong, 16-25 knots, but largely behind the mast and with full sail engaged, speed was terrific for, as the wind was off the land, the sea was pretty flat. Perhaps they were relenting?
We nearly made it but just five miles off Gaios the wind was dropping so low progress was unacceptably slow. With the risk of a late arrival meaning no space to moor-up; the donkey finished the job and we found a spot on the town quay. Rod & Pat on Genevieve, who had got half-an-hour ahead of us with their clean bottom and two new sails (our bottom needs a good scrub!) took the north entrance to the harbour and that made all the difference; by the time they reached us there were no spaces left but we managed to persuade the yachts around us to bunch up a bit and we called them back (by radio) to moor alongside us.
Gaios has changed little since our last visit some 18 months ago. The beautiful newly paved square that fronts on to the harbour still floods in what little tide there is in the Med and prices are steep compared with elsewhere in the Ionian. Despite all that it is still heaving with yachts night after night. Two nights were happily spent there before a hankering for ‘Chicken Blue Coast’ and their potato wedges beckoned Richard like the sirens to Odysseus and his crew. That meant moving the 14nms to Sivota Mourtos on the mainland.
The wind was fickle but five miles of the short journey were sailed and by mid-afternoon we were moored up outside The Bamboo Place where we nipped ashore for a refreshing beer after our limited exertions. Andreas who owns and runs the quayside bar is a real worker and knows every trick in the book to bring customers in and keep them there once he’s got them. You order a drink, and that turns up with generous bowl of nibbles. Before you can finish that drink a freebie arrives and after you have consumed those two you feel obliged to order a third. When the third drink is delivered it is quickly followed by a plate of tasty toasted sandwiches full of cheese and ham so of course you feel obliged to order yet another drink. And then Andreas ............... Hotel California! If you know the song?
Despite his best attempts we managed to escape, shower and slip past him to reach ‘The Blue Coast’ taverna; a spot for which we have fond memories that go back to our early flotilla days. It has a homely atmosphere that has been retained by the daughter Angie and her Turkish chef husband who have taken over the business from Angie’s Canadian mother and Greek father. Charlie ravenously consumed a perfectly cooked Sea Bream whilst Richard tucked into his siren dish. The only missing ingredient was the swallows and martins that have long departed but make a meal there an absolute delight for guests in the Spring and early summer but hell for Angie and the staff who have to clean up after them. Special boards are positioned around the covered veranda upon which they happily nest.
What was sad was to hear that Angie had had a distressing season with some upsetting customers, something she had not previously experienced in 22 years in the business. To top that was her realisation that they had taken insufficient money during the season to see them comfortably through the winter and she is, quite rightly in Richard’s view, fearful of a weaker season next year as a large proportion of their shoulder months’ business relies upon Brits. But equally Richard is confident they will survive as all the moves she was talking about are good and will see them through. It was another distressing example of how the Greek economy is creaking and how UK cut backs will amplify that next year. Nonetheless we managed to have three most enjoyable and romantic meals there.
Next came another short trip up to a new port we had been trying to fit in for many years; Benitses on Corfu. In itself it not exciting and probably only tenable in reasonable weather but it is free, quiet and within an easy bus or taxi ride of Corfu Old Town. Rod & Pat were already there with their guests Sue & Richard who were to fly home the following day. We all traipsed of to the Liston in the Old Town on the early evening bus and had a most enjoyable evening in its hustle and bustle busy atmosphere; we were even entertained by a passing wedding party and their accompanying band.
After a return visit to Sivota Mourtos it was time to head back south as the long range forecasts were suggesting southerly winds were again on their way. It was a longish day but somehow it passed quickly and smoothly albeit it was totally motored; with a stop at Levkas for fuel (another €220.00) and water we moored up at Porto Spilia, dramatically set as it is under an over-hanging cliff topped by the village of Spartahori. The welcome we received from Babis as he took our lines was warm and from the heart and Charlie was much moved by it.
After two days there a huge washing trip was needed to the best washing machine in the area, Teo’s in Sivota Levkas. Thus two days were spent washing and drying in the autumnal sunshine before the 14-day forecast encouraged us to trundle back up to Little Vathi to take shelter from the expected strong southerly winds to be accompanied by almost continuous rain and thunderstorms. We have often said that when the weather in the UK is unusually good it is unusually bad in the Med. The weather in the UK was unusually good.
After a couple of days spent there in the company of Rod and Pat who had also run there for cover, Charlie suddenly developed breathing difficulties and panic attacks as a result. Plans always allow for the possibility that Charlie’s condition will take a dive; unfortunately, that having happened, it was time to implement them. The return home flight from Herakleon had already been moved to be from Corfu but on the 26th of October to Gatwick. A quick visit to the Internet discovered there were plenty of seats available on an alternative Easyjet flight from Corfu to Bristol on Friday the 15th; the transfer was made for just €104.00. That was on Tuesday the 12th giving us just three days to prepare CGIV for bed and move her to her new resting place, Cleopatra yard near Preveza. With the prevailing weather this was a near impossible task but it had to be done as we suspected that fluid may again be collecting around Charlie’s lung, this time on the left side. With Charlie’s specialist nurse’s help appointments for an x-ray and to see Charlie’s consultant Liz Toy were made for Monday the 18th, with us flying home over night on the 15th; such excellent service is almost impossible to believe but it would seem is a regular occurrence for us.
The weather remained appalling with almost continuous rain and very high humidity when it wasn’t raining; absolutely the last thing you want when sails and rig have to be dried out for winter storage. Fortunately, the sails had been thoroughly rain washed after the trip up from Crete and just needed drying. Lady Luck kicked in with just one sunny morning with no wind and Richard took that opportunity to check the genoa was dry, drop it and bag it with Rod & Pat’s assistance. Minutes after that was completed the wind came in on the stern which would have made dropping the sail physically impossible. Battling with 60m² of sail cloth weighing more than 25kgs with the wind in it, on the foredeck is just not possible even in 3 knots of wind. The mainsail, being furled ‘in mast’ was left where it was for the winter with a mental note to see if CGIV could be parked on the hard facing south thereby keeping the sun off what little of the sail would still be exposed to its damaging ultra-violet light. All the loose rigging, ropes, blocks and sheets were removed and by the time we reached Cleopatra marina, more or less dry. That in itself was a miracle as on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning a thunder storm of immense proportions sat over Meganissi and dropped so many tonnes of water even the sprayhood, bimini and the awning atop them could not keep the water out and off the bundles left there to dry. A similar squall with winds up to 50knots (58mph) struck suddenly in the marina but fortunately was seen coming and the freshly scrubbed awning was retrieved from the pontoon in time; just.
Lift-out had been arranged for Friday morning at 09.00 and at 08.30 a marinero whizzed down the pontoon on his bike to see if we were ready; this was impressive! We were and CGIV was soon in the dock, lifted and her bottom being power-washed.
Getting from Cleopatra to Corfu airport is a bit of a drag. The most economic way is using the marina’s courtesy bus to Preveza, a bus from there to Igonemitsa, a ferry to Corfu and a taxi to the airport at all-up cost of around €50.00. To achieve that means leaving on the 10.00 courtesy bus to catch the only winter schedule Igonemitsa bus of the day at 11.15. That we could not do this time as we needed to see Our Girl lifted, washed, propped, power connected, warps and fenders put away, dehumidifier enabled, anchor and chain dropped onto a pallet (saves it rusting in its locker which always has seawater in it), all of which took a little over two hours. So we took a taxi to Igonemitsa for €110.00!
The journey was smooth and easy with Charlie sleeping most of the way. Our arrival on Corfu was far too early to go to the airport particularly as we had checked in on line and only had hand luggage, a good excuse to return to one of our favourite spots to soak up more of its wonderful atmosphere and watch the numerous characters it attracts; the Liston in the Old Town.
And there we happily sat for around three hours supping orange juice, coffee and an early evening vodka before going to the airport and flying home, albeit an hour and a half late due to a bird strike on the incoming aircraft. Stuart very kindly picked us up from the airport and drove us home where after a few chores we climbed gratefully into bed at 4am or to us, 6am Greek time. We slept well.
Monday’s consultation with Liz was reassuring with the prior x-ray indicating little change in the fluid level around the lung; certainly not enough to justify attempts at its removal though that was to change. With Charlie obviously below par Liz suggested a full MOT starting with blood tests and ending up with a further CT scan, all of which would be discussed at the extant appointment on November 1st. Tuesday morning brought a phone call from Sandra (Charlie’s Specialist Nurse) “you’re anaemic and need a blood transfusion asap”. 09.00 Wednesday found us back in Cherry Brook ward for cross-matching and a boring four hour wait whilst two units of fresh blood were slowly drizzled into Charlie’s bloodstream.
Charlie’s pain control drugs had been slowly reduced over the last few weeks in an attempt to reduce her doziness and it appeared as if a plateau had been reached as some signs of discomfort were beginning to show themselves. A consultation with Sarah Human, Charlie’s palliative care consultant on the following Tuesday supported what we had been trying and suggested we level off the drugs and wait a week to see how it goes. An appointment was also to be made with her husband who is a pain consultant and who had suggested an alternative treatment to the taking of copious quantities of drugs. It involves an injection of nerve deadening stuff that could switch off the two affected nerves where they exit from Charlie’s 8th and 9th thoracic vertebrae, thought to be the root of her discomfort as there are two 2cm tumours sitting right there and probably pressing on the nerves. If that worked then Charlie could be weaned off all the opiates she currently has to take and would very much be closer to a normal life; driving may again become an option and thereby her freedom returned to her. A subsequent appointment with David Human’s colleague ran though the procedure which Charlie was not too keen to try. After an hour of discussion she decided to go ahead despite her fears.
During this three week period of tests and appointments Charlie’s breathlessness got worse so it was decided to attempt some removal of the fluid. Neither that nor the nerve deadening injection are particularly pleasant procedures but with the cancer’s progress confirmed as still being thankfully slow, the benefits that could be gained tip the balance in their favour. More tests and scans are planned for the end of November just prior to our departure on a rail and river cruise down the Rhine and Moselle to visit some more European Christmas markets.
Well, you have to keep smiling don’t you?
E From Aboard 2010/11
The time since our early return home from our beloved yacht has been nothing short of an extreme roller coaster ride. Indications on Charlie’s health have swung from “as good as it can get” to “Oh my God, is this the end?” and then back again so many times we have lost count. The medical teams, and there are two of them now, one dealing with the disease itself and the other with palliative care, have both been as wonderful as ever. They knew of our planned trip to some German Christmas Markets and moved heaven and earth to ensure we got there. Granted the all clear was not actually given until the day before we were due to leave when the last blood test results came in. Sandra phoned up saying “the results are fine. Go away and enjoy yourselves”. We did.
With departure being on Thursday the 2nd of December the weather did its upmost to ensure we could not get to London let alone Cologne. We awoke that morning to our first snow and with the temperatures the way they were that made the lane down to Bovey potentially impassable. We may get down it but would never get back up again so do you leave or not?
Resorting to the Internet for detailed travel information suggested that First Great Western trains were running almost normally so we should reach London but Eurostar was on an emergency timetable and many services were being cancelled so we might not get any further. We decided to chance it and made it to Vicky’s (Charlie’s eldest sister) as planned for the night. The following morning we took the underground to St Pancras as the roads were close to impassable with ice, snow and grid-locked traffic. Even that proved to be a bit of a drama with more cancelled trains than those left running, but we made it to St Pancras more or less on time to be told by our tour manager that our train to Brussels was cancelled and we had to rebook on a slightly later train and whilst that was only leaving 6 minutes later than our original train it would be up to two hours late at Brussels so we would miss our connection for Cologne. We did but they held the boat at Cologne until we and the four other tour groups arrived. In fact whilst we were scheduled as the last to leave St Pancras we were first to reach Cologne. The journey was nonetheless a little stressful and Charlie struggled with the uncertainty which did little to help her persistent breathlessness.
The ship, boat or whatever you call an elongated three-story hotel that floats on a river, MS Sonata, was almost brand new and had only been in service for three months or so. Whilst somewhat ugly when viewed from outside, internally she was quite striking as was our cabin. As we sat down to dinner that had been delayed for an hour, she sailed and we immediately felt at home. There is no doubt Charlie is at her happiest when on water and the twinkling lights of Cologne reflecting on the still waters of the Rhine made that enjoyment even better. The view from our table next to the panoramic restaurant windows brought a beaming smile to her face. The five-course dinner that was served was superb as was every meal, breakfast, lunch and dinner which we were to enjoy during our four night stay on board. The standard of menu and presentation was as good as we would expect to find at most Michelin star restaurants.
The following morning we had our second surprise just before lunch. They pushed the bows of this 135 metre vessel on to the shore of the Moselle. You could hear the sound of metal grinding on gravel. Then they swung the stern round, it only just clearing the opposite shore, and reversed the last few miles up the river to Cochem as the river further up was not wide enough for them to turn there.
We disembarked at 1pm with clear instructions to be back on board by 6.45pm or they would leave without us. It didn’t take us that long to re-board as the temperature was -10°C and with a light breeze it felt a lot colder than that. That and the climb up the steps to reach bridge level and the walk across to the town square took a long while. We were beginning to appreciate just how limiting Charlie’s breathlessness was going to be.
Relief was found on reaching the other side, after a brief stop to admire the beautiful castle perched on a nearby hilltop and fronted by a vineyard, by diving into a large colourful tent that was kitted out as a bar and with several stalls around its perimeter and that was further warmed by a typically Bavarian brass band playing traditional Christmas music.
Our next stop was at Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. We don’t know why they bothered. The walk passed ‘German Corner’ with its massive celebratory memorial and statue and on in to the centre was like walking a building site and Richard had stopped doing that eight years ago. But our spirits were kept up in anticipation of the Christmas market. It was shut.
Charlie was none too pleased as the walk was a strain and of no benefit other than a bit of exercise to work off the eating excesses on board.
But with an 11am departure we rapidly moved on to Rudesheim arriving at 5pm and disembarking to enjoy its charming little market tucked away in the backstreets through which you thread your way to find groups of stalls at every widening. But we bought nothing and returned quite early for dinner. We sailed at bedtime for Frankfurt and woke up as we arrived the following morning.
The market in Frankfurt was extensive, more interesting and with stalls holding some better quality goods. After a brief stop there we departed for Mainz where the walk to find the markets was a little more challenging for Charlie, partly because it involved climbing a series of steps and partly because, at long last, the temperature had crept above zero for the first time, bring on a thaw that made the paths pretty treacherous.
The stalls, perhaps appropriately for the last stop, were undoubtedly the best of the trip. Various beeswax items were bought as well two Stollen loaves and some other sweeties to share with friends and family over Christmas.
After a gala dinner to celebrate our last evening and whilst the boat sailed for Cologne we retired to bed feeling very satisfied and pleased with our five day trip. It had been a total success.
The trip back from Cologne to St Pancras was almost incident free, just one unplanned change of trains due to a technical failure ten minutes out from Cologne, that, whilst delaying us, was easily absorbed by the planned wait in Brussels for our Eurostar train which subsequently pulled into St Pancras pretty well on time.
We stopped the night with Charlie’s middle sister having a lovely chin wag over supper before training it home the next day for a couple of days rest and recuperation. We were booked to have a Christmas dinner and stay over with Richard’s ex-chairman who had invited two other ex-staff members as a surprise, one being Richard’s PA Delia on the following day but he had to cancel as he and his wife had gone down with a cold and they knew we would not be able to risk that infection.
It seemed as if our roller-coaster ride had come to an end. Apart from the debilitating breathlessness Charlie was as well as she had been for a year or more and her drug regime seemed to be coping adequately with her various areas of discomfort. But it hadn’t. A phone call from Charlie’s Specialist Nurse early on Monday December 13th metaphorically cut us both off at the knees. As Charlie was so well the team had decided to hold back one bit of information so that we could go away and enjoy our Christmas Markets trip. They were right so to do though some might think otherwise and, on reflection over a few days, we are grateful that they did.
The final CT scan had focussed on two doubtful areas of its predecessor and had confirmed a new mass in the abdomen and, more worryingly, on the liver. Charlie’s case was raised at the MDT (Multi Disciplinary Team) and it was decided that it would be wise to find out exactly what the mass is. That means a biopsy that will keep Charlie in hospital all day in case internal bleeding occurs.
The mass could be benign. It could be a return of the ’93 breast cancer or the ’84 cervical cancer; either of those are now readily treatable with hormone therapy. Or it could be the thymoma; that would be very rare for Charlie’s type but is possible and nobody wishes to discuss what that means. We are deeply upset and worried but must get on with life. It is slightly over three years since the original diagnosis and that far exceeds their best survival estimates. Liz Toy holds that this is probably because of Charlie’s fighting spirit and our joint positive attitude; that being so we must continue with it. It is Christmas after all and there is lots to look forward to and enjoy.
Whilst we await the appointment arrangements our Christmas celebrations continue apace. All presents are bought, most have arrived, some have been wrapped and a few already delivered. The turkey is still alive and fattening nicely, we hope. We shall pick it up on the eve of Christmas Eve, cook it in the Aga on Christmas Eve night and take it and the family tradition, sausage meat patties, over to our eldest Son’s home on Christmas morning where we shall dine in style with his family and our eldest daughter’s family who live but a mile down the road. It is what they wanted and broadly what we have done for the past few Christmas’s. We are very happy with that as we benefit greatly from their constant support.
A Merry Christmas everyone and a happy and prosperous New Year