E's from Aboard 2011 - Synopsis
As with previous years, the E’s From Aboard and Abroad 2011 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 2011/1
Snow lying crisp and even in an idyllic country scene personifies Christmas for most folk and still remains a firm favourite for the Christmas cards of many. At home we have previously had snow as early as Christmas day albeit just a light dusting that melted away almost as fast as it mystically appeared overnight. But this year we had snow like we have never seen at any time during our fifteen winters in The Old Stables and that was well before Christmas; the first on the 2nd of December in fact. This had barely cleared before it happened again on the 17th followed by a really heavy fall a day or so after that. But we were prepared and were well stocked up with essentials for life (wine mainly) expecting the mile or so of single track lane down from our hamlet to be impassable through ice. It was impassable all right but through the depth of snow, not ice.
That was the start of a ten day period during which we were effectively cut off from the outside world albeit not entirely. Refuse collection trucks could not get through anymore than any other large delivery trucks such as oil tankers and that caused some of our neighbours’ grief whilst we were lucky with a full oil tank and three month’s supply of logs. Postal deliveries almost stopped and that delayed most of our Internet purchases but we had bought early enough to ensure all were received in time for Christmas.
A hospital appointment had to be met on the 22nd for a biopsy on Charlie’s liver to identify what the lesions seen on the prior CT scan were. By the 20th enough 4x4’s had been up and down the lane to reduce the snow depth sufficiently for ordinary cars to get down; none had been seen getting back up though. Nonetheless Richard spent the whole of the Monday morning digging out wheel tracks down our drive, across the bridle path and onto the road in the hope we could get out and back. With the back-up of John across the road offering to pick us up if we could not get back, on Tuesday we set off down to the town on a trial run and to have a coffee and reinforce our supplies. It was a slippy old run but we managed perfectly well in the daytime sub-zero temperatures and securely compacted snow; for the whole ten days the temperature never rose above zero and was almost constantly below -5°C.
Thus the hospital appointment was met, the biopsy done and Charlie kept in for the night as her blood count was very low as was her oxygen level requiring them to give her two units of blood. Unfortunately that and the increasing amount of fluid collecting in her chest made her worse rather than better but, after discussion and our agreement, she was discharged for Christmas and an arrangement made for oxygen to be delivered for her use at home. A further appointment was made for after Christmas to drain off her fluid and insert a permanent drain to enable us to deal with the fluid at home; doing that before Christmas risked her being in hospital for the duration and nobody wanted that.
The wonders of modern technology and the NHS again; within four hours of the request by Charlie’s specialist nurse a delivery van turned up at home with an oxygen extraction unit and three back-up bottles of oxygen. After twenty minutes of instruction by the young engineer, Richard added to his nursing care skills becoming a proficient oxygen supplier. In truth, it could not be easier. The extraction unit is so clever; plug it in, switch it on, set the amount of oxygen you want and it extracts the required oxygen from the air and with 15 metres of flexible pipe Charlie can wander round most of the house whilst using the oxygen. Whilst that was being demonstrated, Rod & Pat kindly picked Charlie up and brought her home; an experience they found a bit distressing, Charlie being far from her usual self.
Christmas Day was difficult but managed and enjoyed. The turkey was cooked over night in the Aga, bunged in the back of the car with the mobile oxygen supply, numerous presents and everything else, and off to Torquay we went. Alan (eldest Son) had cooked all the veg and Mandy (eldest Daughter) the puds and as Josh (eldest Grandson) had to work on Christmas evening, lunch started at about 1.30. Charlie struggled all day with discomfort, breathlessness and fatigue. She spent as much time upstairs in bed on oxygen as downstairs in amongst the party. It seemed a stress for all concerned but it was Christmas and it was celebrated in style and whilst the arrangement was a familiar one, the team’s effort produced what was probably one of the best Christmas lunches we had ever had.
We were to stay overnight but decided to head home early in the evening and slithered and slipped back up our icing compacted snow lane by about 10pm. Amazingly there was no snow whatsoever in Torquay.
Thus on the Wednesday after Christmas we reported to the hospital at 0745 for a surgical procedure to insert the permanent drain (catheter?) and to have the excess fluid drained off. It was near to chaos being the hospital’s first day back in full service with the disruptions caused by the snow and ice still at large. Several wards were closed by the usual virus that inconsiderate folk insist on carrying in despite all the pleas, the resultant reluctance of tertiary care hospitals to accept patients due for discharge from those wards and the increase in ward cases resulting from fractures brought about by the weather, all contributed to a desperate lack of bed space. Despite all this and a booking mishap (admin did not have us on their list) Charlie still made her second place on the surgeon’s list and was all done and dusted by midday. Just an hour in the recovery suite and another on a discharge ward and we would be off home. Wrong! Because of all the chaos there were no beds on wards and a recovery suite is not equipped or the staff trained to carry out the discharge checks and procedures. A bed was found and Charlie put on it in the recovery suite whilst an emergency bed management meeting sorted out what to do next with her and many others. Meanwhile Richard was taking tea with the Chief Executive in her office catching up on the hospital’s goings on and learning about all the above.
Charlie was soon ready for discharge but needed the loo so off she goes to find one. When she returned and pulled back her cubicle curtains her bed had gone and had been replaced by a very lonely, small, metal-legged plastic chair trying desperately to look large and important alongside her bag in the resultant large empty space. Charlie was not particularly amused but when soon thereafter she was joined by Richard, was encouraged to see the funny side of it. He just couldn’t stop laughing picturing it as a perfect scene for a TV comedy. It seemed inappropriate to take a photograph but Richard was sorely tempted.
The return home was not everything one would wish as it seemed to us the news from the biopsy would not be good. The early results which had been imparted by Liz Toy that morning confirmed it was a cancer but could not say what type; further tests and analysis was required for that. Liz said it is unusual, very rare even, for Charlie’s Thymoma to go to the liver but as Charlie said “I do unusual and rare”. We were expecting the worst.
On Thursday the 6th of January 2011 it was confirmed as being the Thymoma.
It seems odd to write it but Charlie is actually quite well albeit constantly short of breath and lacking in energy. Liz recommended no further treatment whilst she remains well. We shall review that on the 24th of January when we next see her. There are treatment options available that may slow down “it’s” progress but with an increasing risk of further chemotherapy being counter-productive it may prove to be a difficult one to call when the time comes.
Meanwhile we try to keep our spirits up with the knowledge that the liver can do its job with 80% of it destroyed and it is nowhere near that level at present and our seats are booked with Easy Jet for the 4th of April to return to Our Girl for another few months of sailing, wining, dining and enjoying the Med; Spring and early Summer are undoubtedly the best times out there. Her winter maintenance has been organised and new parts are being sought. Like the sun breaking through departing rain clouds, early signs of the excitement that brings are struggling to break through our clouds of gloom and despair. Given half a chance we’ll make it for another season!
E From Aboard 2011/2
At long last Charlie’s disease is having its wicked way. Whilst she remains strangely well in herself, setbacks are now constantly occurring; breathlessness, break through pain, total fatigue and anaemia being the main protagonists. They are all readily treatable but only if we remain close to our support teams. As a result of that, early in March we had to accept that Charlie will never again see our much loved yacht and her beloved Ionian. On Thursday the 10th Richard cancelled the flights and hotel bookings; both Charlie and Richard were caught unawares by the disproportionate emotional upset that caused. Continuing to fight this dreadful disease is becoming much more difficult.
But we remain largely positive and still we find ourselves wishing to share the good news as well as the bad and in so doing publically praise our much criticised NHS. We now have three active centres of support; Liz Toy, Charlie’s consultant oncologist, ably supported by Sandra Pope her specialist nurse: Sarah Human, the palliative care consultant and her team, and now, our own GP Keith Maybin who has always been there for us but has been little required until now.
After a pre-arranged CT scan on the morning of Friday March the 12th we went into Exeter for a little retail therapy which brought home just how weak Charlie was; only her stoic stubbornness kept her walking at all. Charlie called Anne Yelland, Sarah’s supporting McMillan nurse, and after a brief consultation with Keith Maybin and Sandra Pope, Charlie was admitted to the RD&E on Monday the 14th. There she spent four rather unpleasant days as they searched for the cause of her current difficulties, part of which included a dramatic drop in her pain control drugs in an attempt to overcome her doziness that had become so bad it was difficult to wake her on the Tuesday morning. It turned out that was carbon dioxide poisoning resulting from too much oxygen having been given. All the obvious causes of why she was so unwell were eventually eliminated leaving only the disease itself as the cause. On Thursday she was transferred by ambulance to Rowcroft Hospice, a much more amenable environment than a hospital, so they could rebalance her drug regime and oxygen intake. It would seem that the blood transfusion given on the Wednesday and the restful environment dealt with the latter as her oxygen saturation settled down at 85-89% with little need to resort to her oxygen supply, which is exactly where they wished it to be. The drug regime will take a little longer.
On Monday the 21st, the first day of Spring, Richard decided to ask if the chemotherapy that had been offered a month previously would retard the evident advance of the disease. The answer that came back was far from good. The full report on the last CT scan told of the disease having spread to the pleura around the right lung, having advanced somewhat in the liver and worst of all, was now evident in both lungs; thus any further treatment would have a less than 10% likelihood of benefit and would seriously impair Charlie’s quality of life. It was the news that had been feared for over three years albeit Charlie had already decided she wanted no further treatment.
The obvious question followed. “How long?” The apologetic answer that came back after a consultation between Liz Toy and Sarah Human was “We have no idea as we can find no similar case histories to guide us. But you will know Charlie”.
In the meantime the constant flood of visitors to the Hospice all said the same thing “Golly Charlie, you look so well”. And she does. But then who wouldn’t when you are being pampered 24 hours a day with Jacuzzi baths, aromatherapy, foot and back massage, refreshments whenever they are wanted, a drinks trolley (yes alcohol!), home cooked food, grounds that have beautiful views across Torbay and nursing staff that perform more like 7-star hotel staff than nurses; all of this with the exception of the food and drinks trolley is equally available to Richard and a lot of it to all visitors. And you have your palliative care consultant on tap in the next room.
Charlie was discharged from Rowcroft on Friday the 25th, a beautiful sunny Spring day so we drove up on to Dartmoor to the Rugglestone Inn for a light lunch. It was so warm we had to move into a shadier spot!
And another ‘but’ is ‘life must still go on’; sitting waiting for the inevitable is not an option.
There is a big wedding taking place in Glasgow on the 3rd of April that we hope to go to, courtesy of a very helpful EasyJet who are putting on wheelchairs and allowing us to take oxygen with us but Dr. George (Sarah Human’s colleague) is not comfortable with Charlie flying anymore and is consulting her respiratory colleagues for further advice. It is a black tie do; one of Richard’s Scottish cousins’ son’s is getting married with an afternoon ceremony and reception as well as an evening dinner and dance, all being held in the Central Hotel. It might be our last formal do together and we intend to make the most of it if we can.
Embryonic plans are also afoot for other short breaks. We might go to one of Charlie’s sisters who lives in France in the summer. We will take the car and ferry to Sandanter leaving just a three hour drive to her villa; that way we get to take a wonderful bit of modern kit that extracts oxygen from the air at whatever strength you want it. A week on the Norfolk broads in one of those ‘stink pot’ boats is also on the cards. And we have several friends who have invited us to stay so we might also do that as the Spring blossoms into early summer.
We shall see.
E From Aboard 2011/3
The trip to Glasgow for the Wedding of the Year was managed though not without some difficulties and disappointments. Richard’s first cousin, once removed, James, married a most vivacious and beautiful Jewess, Roanna with the whole ceremony and celebration taking place in the Grand Central Hotel, which provided an added benefit for that old anorak Richard as it is positioned at the head of the concourse of Grand Central railway station. It was clear from the start that no expense or effort had been spared in making this an event to be remembered with fondness and joy.
The wedding was a full orthodox Jewish event overseen by Rabbi Steven Katz, an amusing character who made it his business to explain and translate every part of the ceremony to us gentiles; it was otherwise, quite naturally, conducted in Hebrew. He achieved this with considerable humour and even an explanation of how and why each particular custom had become so. It added much to the ceremony.
All was conducted under the Chuppah which is deemed to be symbolic of the marital home alongside of which and neatly tucked away in the corner of the function room was a three-piece combo who, somewhat surprisingly for a guitar, saxophone, drums and vocalist, provided a mainly traditional Yiddish musical accompaniment. All males attending were supplied with and requested to wear the traditional Kippah, the Jewish skull cap; these had been purpose made for the occasion from soft leather and embroidered internally with details of the occasion for which they were provided; it formed an unusual but welcome memento.
Everyone congregated at around 3pm for the wedding at 3.30pm after which the 250+ attendees milled around taking photos and we were no exception. Then it was time for the reception which took place in another function room at the other end of the hotel. Small bites were circulated on trays varying from mini-burgers to more dainty topped croustade as were cocktail or champagne glasses that were frequently replenished. After nearly two hours of that most folk had probably eaten and drunk enough to not want the dinner to come. During that time Charlie retired to her room for a rest as standing for over an hour was just too much for her.
When dinner was announced at around 18.30 Richard brought her back down to take their prescribed places at the appointed table in the Ballroom which was beautifully bedecked for the occasion. The meal was a delight and, as it was spread out between various speeches and commentaries, took the best part or four hours to complete. Arrival at the table was greeted with a small cup of tomato based soup followed by a trio of salmon (smoked and/or marinated) with a vegetable and noodle stir fry. After a speech or two the main course of stuffed and carved chicken breast on a bed of herb infused mash with four fresh vegetables was served. It was delicious but many found it too sumptuous to finish. Then came a choice of sweets each of which was formed by two or three different dishes; Richard selected the apple tart and custard (served in its own china jug) and a delightfully refreshing apple sorbet. Charlie unfortunately missed that as she was by then so exhausted she had taken herself to bed.
All this was followed by platters of just about all the fresh fruits you could imagine as well as little pots stuffed full of different types of sweeties; coffee, tea or a selection of herbal infusions completed the meal. And lest you think there was nothing to drink, wine flowed freely throughout as did any other drink you may wish before, during or after a banquet as surely, this was a feast to justify the use of that word. The only sadness was Charlie’s inability to enjoy it.
The trip whilst completed satisfactorily showed quite clearly that further trips abroad were no longer a practical or safe option; further adventures would be restricted to the immediate locality of home. It was yet another deeply upsetting sadness to bear.
Within a couple of days Charlie was feeling decidedly unwell which resulted in another short stay in Rowcroft Hospice and that is where we are to date. It would seem that visits there are likely to become more frequent as time goes on.
E From Aboard 2011/4
April was the most wonderful month, reportedly the finest since records began. Certainly we spent most of it and the tail end of March in the garden watching it blossom early as if in celebration of its master and lover, Charlie, being there for the first time in many a year or perhaps it sensed it was to be her last Spring. We made several trips to Garden Centres and I made several alterations to the garden whilst she sat soaking up the sun on the patio and deciding what plants were required. Even the two huge tree ferns surprised us by pushing up a new batch of fronds when we had feared they had been finished off by the ten day period when the temperature never rose above -5°C and was often below -10°C last December.
On our return from Glasgow, the other wedding of the year, Charlie’s breathing became more difficult. Her disease, having entered her only good lung, was unbalancing the signals back and forth from her brain and making her think she was short of oxygen; fortunately she wasn’t but the cause was medical not psychological. The result was three short and successful stays in Rowcroft Hospice to swiftly adjust the type and quantity of her drugs to alleviate the symptoms.
Further trips away were discussed and just about possible; a boat on the Norfolk Broads or a canal boat along a North Wales canal to name but two. In the meantime our social calendar was expanded and many friends seen and their company enjoyed including a quiet birthday supper on April 21st in a local hostelry alongside the river Teign with two of our closest friends, Jeanne & Andrew. Perhaps the peak trip was down on to the river Dart to perch on Nigel & Alison’s motor yacht whilst we consumed the most perfect smoked salmon that Drew & Alison (Scots cousin & hubby) had sent down and which we washed down with copious amounts of bubbly we had taken along for the occasion.
Then it was the Royal wedding which provided a golden opportunity for a family gathering. Charlie was certainly up for it and we traipsed over to the eldest daughter Mandy’s pad early to make sure we got a good seat. Alan (eldest Son) and Michelle soon joined us with a load of bunting and a bunch of flags to wave. Practice flag waving sessions were soon underway complete with cheering. As the morning progressed more of our enormous immediate family joined us. After the wedding, time was spent in the garden, again soaking up the rays and quaffing a bit of juice. A barbeque followed with enough food brought by all to feed the whole of Torbay. It was a great day though pretty exhausting for Charlie.
As April drew to a close Charlie gave up the struggle of getting up the stairs at home and we had a stair lift installed. It was a degradation she found hard to accept but battled on nonetheless. As May dawned it seemed that was not to be all that would be required if she was to continue living a relatively normal life and so on the third of her drug adjustment stays in Rowcroft a wheelchair joined the ensemble and took up residence in the back of the car. It was little used as Charlie preferred to walk round Asda on our usual weekly shop regardless of how long it took her. And so it was on Thursday May 5th.
Sarah Human, her palliative care Consultant was due to visit early that evening but Charlie seemed unduly distressed to me so we trekked off into Rowcroft to see her there. She suggested Charlie come in. For once we were not prepared for that so had to go home and collect the necessary bits and bobs one needs for a hotel stay. On our return we were told all three individual rooms were taken and Charlie would thus be in a four-bed ward. Charlie was not amused at all and was pretty grumpy as she approached her bed carrying her usual bags of womanly goodies. Then the old lady opposite cried out for help seemingly unaware of the call button held firmly in her right hand. Charlie immediately dropped her bags and was across the room to find out what was wrong and what she could do to help. I smiled in amazement; even then her first thoughts were for a lady she did not even know and her needs rather than her own.
All was moving along swimmingly; an x-ray on Friday morning showed no measurable change in her condition since the last scan and x-ray back in March. That was good news indeed. The drug adjustment went well and as that was over the weekend discharge was planned for Monday. The weather was again brilliant so each day we jumped in the car and trundled down to the sea front at Torquay or Paignton to get “a boat fix” as we always had called it. But all was not well. After lunch at Offshore, the restaurant where eldest Son Alan works I suggested a walk around the harbour and along the front back to the car. Charlie said “That would be nice” so off we went. After a few minutes I could almost feel her anger radiating from her head back to me behind her, pushing the wheelchair. The same happened at Paignton seafront on our two trips there.
Charlie had a poor night on the Sunday, thought to be as a result of falling asleep with her oxygen on; on reflection that was probably not the reason. On Monday she showed no signs of wanting to come home so off we went for a walk round Paignton harbour and another glass of wine on the front. All seemed normal for us albeit Charlie was a little quieter than usual. I left her to go home for supper as usual at around 6pm.
On arriving home I left my mobile in the car by mistake and did not realise until bedtime. Charlie would always ring me at 10pm to say good night but she did not or at least the phone showed no ‘missed call’. At 5.30 am I awoke with a start, feeling decidedly uneasy without knowing why. I got up, bathed early and did all the daily chores normally left until later and awaited her usual 8am call. It came on the dot.
I knew instantly something had changed. She wanted me to collect her there and then saying “I’ve had enough Darling. I need your help”. I knew what that meant.
Being ready I set off for Rowcroft immediately. As I arrived at the car park the phone rang; it was the Rowcroft staff nurse. “I think you had better come in. Something is not right but we don’t quite know what. Charlie has changed”. A further conversation before I joined Charlie added little to my or their understanding. The curtains were drawn around her bed though she was sitting, as normal, fully dressed, in her reclining chair. It was quite clear she had had enough and wanted to go now, meaning she wanted to die. It was a difficult but not unexpected conversation and a scenario we had discussed many times.
Lady Luck kicked in at this point “Charlie’s room” as the single bed Hawthorn Room had come to be known by all, had suddenly become vacant; the lady occupant had gone home. Another bizarre coincidence? Who knows.
By 10am Charlie was safely in her Room but back in bed and almost comatose. It was a deep shock to see such a sudden and steep decline in her condition. The nurses immediately fitted an automatic drip feed for her drugs suspecting that she had taken her last voluntary dose by mouth. I logged on to Skype and e-mailed and phoned her sister Alex in France who had I had told of my worries at 7am but said I did not think she needed to fly home just yet. The rest of the family were called and remarkably by tea time all, including Alex, were in her room with her as well as her other sister from London who could not stay as her daughter was in labour with her first grandchild, all five of our children, four of the grandchildren and all the spouses. It was a moving testimony of how they all felt about Charlie; after all, four of the children are technically step-children but that is not how they or Charlie saw it.
It was a long day with little sign of movement or awareness from Charlie. Rightly, the family behaved as they always do, exuding much laughter and good humour, perhaps a touch more nervously than normal. All but three drifted off as the day came to a close to get some sleep and to return early next morning. The Hospice made up two beds for Alex, Angus and myself to get some rest. Angus and I took the first sleep but at 2am I was up and back in the room to relieve Alex who was a bit distressed by Charlie’s then restlessness; it is quite normal in someone who is dying but Alex did not know that.
I took advantage of her restlessness and being alone with her. I held her hand and stroked her hair, telling her I was there. She settled down and then tried to speak, eventually successfully. It was a prolonged and difficult exchange as Charlie fought to form her words, her eyes either closed or unseeing. She wanted me to know and tell the family that she knew they were there all day and that she enjoyed the normality of their cheery laughter and good humour. She wanted reassurance that they were coming back which I gave. She asked me if she was dying. I confirmed that she was but that was not good enough for Charlie “I want the nurses to tell me. Get them”. I did and they did, telling her time was short. She seemed content with that and moved on to the next item on her agenda. Her lucidity and determination absolutely amazed me. She had not been able to sit up by herself since earlier the previous day but at 04.30 she did and threw her arms around my neck, thanked me for being a wonderful husband and told me how much she loved me. It was a wonderful exchange I shall always remember. After that she settled down and slept peacefully for most of the morning stirring only to acknowledge the arrival of another family member at her bedside.
The morning passed uneventfully but I was shattered through a lack of sleep and opted for a lunchtime zizz alongside her bed and whilst holding her hand in mine. After a sleep I felt something had changed. There was a calm atmosphere in the room; an aura even. I checked Charlie’s pulse; it was both very fast and very weak. Her breathing was shallow but with just a slight element of urgency about it. The end was near.
I stroked her hand and her brow “It is OK my darling. It’s time to let go now. All is well. I love you dearly. Thank you for being such a wonderful wife. Let go darling; let go.” She seemed to mouth a response but there was no sound. There was great peace in her overly tired face.
And so it was that at 16.30 on Wednesday the 11th of May my beautiful girl’s life gently ebbed away. She was gone from me forever, leaving behind a shattered mortal shell that had been her bane for so long. Tears came thick and fast as I kissed her goodbye, praying she would be aware of her last moments and that there was a better place to which she had now moved to be at peace; for eternity.
I struggle to remember the next few minutes but think everyone said their goodbyes in their own way. Josh was clearly very moved; it was a difficult thing for him to experience at such a relatively young age.
The room was quiet but for the gentle sobbing. Charlie had died surrounded by the people she loved and who loved her. I cannot imagine an end for her that could have been better or more full of love.
My soul mate and lover of 37 years peacefully departed this world that had given her so much pain but oh such much more pleasure. She often said she would change nothing but I do wonder if that held as she approached death. I’ll never know.
It had been our intention to meet with the funeral directors on the Monday but that was not to be. We had discussed arrangements at length over the past three years so most of her wishes I knew and she knew my preferences. I thought I was well prepared for her death. I was wrong. Arranging her funeral and celebration party myself was impossible. I need not have worried for the family stepped in and put in seven days of full-time commitment to making the arrangements, incorporating any request from me and adding their own beautiful touches. The service we put together impressed the vicar sufficiently for him to comment on it in his address saying it was the best and most moving he had ever presided over; a touching compliment indeed.
Our three sons, two grandsons and one son-in-law volunteered to carry her in and out of the church with myself following in attendance. We were all dressed in navy-blue cotton trousers and white polo shirts emblazoned with “Charlie Girl Sailing the Mediterranean” as Charlie had designed back in 2001 (See photo). It was a fitting tribute to her favourite pastime.
We had discussed the music we might like. I decide to have Charles Aznavour’s “She” played both on entering the church with her and upon leaving. As I expected it floored me which was entirely appropriate.
Charlie’s eldest sister Vicky went first with the tributes, reading a piece of prose she had written herself (see Appendix Funeral) and was followed by Alex (known to us as Ganga) reading a poem called “Smile”. Both did well to manage it at all.
Our dear friend Jackie Evill, an opera singer of considerable talent, then sang Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, being the piece we both wished her to sing. Her performance for one of her dearest friends was stunningly perfect and filled the church with Mozart’s brilliance.
Then came our neighbours, both doctors, Katie Murphy and Colin Roberts. Colin wrote a wonderful piece about the trial, tribulations, benefits and comedy that come with living next door to the Smiffs. Katie read the parable of the Good Samaritan which I feel reflects Charlie’s care for all around her (see both in Appendix Funeral).
Then I stood up, by her coffin, to do my piece. I discarded my prepared notes and spoke from the heart, principally to thank those in the NHS who had done so much to extend Charlie’s life, make it more bearable and provide more spare parts for fitting than our old MG had a few years back. Their service was exemplary, without exception, particularly in her last illness. I touched on how we met and the early signs of what a strong lady she was to become and the two documents she left for me on her computer as guidance. One, her favourite things also showed her sense of humour, putting me first and then saying “not necessarily in order of preference”. I know my place. The other was a poem that I did not know she had found and which I read to close my address; it was entirely appropriate and will continue to bring a tear to my eye for years to come (See both in Appendix Funeral).
After the vicar’s address and the committal we filed out of the church as we had come in, accompanied by Charles Aznavour and She. It had the same affect. I kissed her coffin and thus her goodbye at the hearse. It was a tough moment.
The party afterwards at the Edgemoor Hotel was a great success in many different ways. We prepared two new montages of photos, letters and the like covering various periods of Charlie’s life though principally those since we got together in the mid 1970’s. To those was added a third which had been made some years before. A screen and DVD player was set up to play some of our recent sailing videos. All the tables were covered in white cloths with a navy blue band laid across to represent Charlie’s favourite colours. On the tables we placed photo albums from our life together with trinkets and ornaments from home and all the letters and tributes I had received since her death. One small table was set up with some items from Charlie’s dressing table and some of her achievements. Many of the guests spent a lot of time searching their memory banks for events the displays portrayed at which they were present. This was particularly true of those from Midas, the company for which I worked for twenty years and had, and still has, a tremendous family atmosphere. Charlie, as with other wives, was almost as much a part of the team as were the chaps. Some old friendships that had waned somewhat were renewed and plans made for future reunions; a great idea which I will follow up but that will be difficult at first without Charlie being present as she was much loved by all, not just me.
It was a happy and joyous occasion as Charlie had wished it.
The last act of the play took place on Sunday May 29th when those of the family who could make it gathered in the garden of The Old Stables for a BBQ during which we laid Charlie’s ashes to rest under the Crab Apple tree and toasted her life and presence with a glass of bubbly or three. As usual the kids were boisterous and full of good humour; Charlie will be sorry to have missed it in the flesh.
A plaque of some description will be made and positioned where she lies so I, and whomever else so wishes, can sit and talk to her, perhaps to share trials and tribulations as well as joys and successes.
And now I am going sailing. For how long and where to I know not. I don’t know if I can sail “Our Girl” without Charlie but I need to find out; in practical terms I can but without her presence ......? Charlie Girl IV was more than a second home. Yachts, like steam engines, seem to develop a life and spirit of their own and Charlie Girl IV was certainly like that for us; we felt she was alive and responded to our moods and desires and us to hers.
Without Charlie there, will that spirit live on with just me aboard? We’ll see.
E From Aboard 2011/5
I never thought life without Charlie was going to be easy; on the contrary, I always knew it was going to be difficult but not as difficult as it is turning out. For thirty-seven years she had shaped me and my life, taking what was a pretty rough piece of raw material and slowly and carefully shaping it to her idea of how a person should be. A fairly dramatic statement to make of what was then a twenty-one year old but true nonetheless. She told me early on that I was seen as “Charlie’s bit of rough” by her family. The description was apt.
Charlie was my inspiration. She had a wonderful way of simplifying things; seeing them as they really were, cutting through the extraneous debris to expose what really mattered and more often than not, that was the underlying human relationships. For me, after her evident courage, that was her greatest strength. It shaped me and contributed greatly to any success I had in my working life. It is going to guide me now in my life without her.
There was so much to be sorted before I could go sailing and that was perhaps a greater help than I realised at the time. Because I had been offered a lift up to Bristol airport and thus a lift down from Corfu to Charlie Girl IV on Genevieve, my flight out was booked for Friday June 3rd, time was therefore short and thus my days filled to capacity.
I had none of the common difficulties in disposing of the contents of Charlie’s wardrobes, after all they were filled with her clothes, not with her herself and we had agreed they should go to the Rowcroft Hospice shop to raise money for them. Some very personal trinkets were set aside and her dressing room left pretty well as it was, traipsed as it is with many of her favourite possessions and memories. A particularly good photograph of Charlie in a beautiful red and gold sari that was taken by Andrew Cooper back in 2003 has been placed on the mantelpiece to keep me in order and heading in the right direction (see photo).
All the added medical equipment including the stair lift were removed, re-sold or collected by the various organisations that had provided them. Two huge boxes of medicinal drugs were delivered to the local pharmacy or surgery for appropriate disposal and the last specialist sharps collection organised. A service of the boiler and Aga were carried out and our housekeeper and gardener asked to continue as before. With the house shaped up for its next phase of life, it was time to think about doing the same for Charlie Girl IV.
Without the company of Frank, Julie, Rod & Pat I think the journey out might have been far more traumatic; another good friend had suggested it was perhaps a little too early to be tackling the yacht. She had a good point.
The first night was spent on Genevieve in Benitses and then we set off for Sivota Mourtos where we spent the second night. Our evening meal was taken at The Blue Coast where Charlie and I had had our last romantic supper the previous autumn. The owner, Angie, and her mother are dear old friends and poor Angie found the news that I had to deliver almost too much to cope with and still work her evening duty. Many tears were shed over supper as I sat staring at the now vacant table where we had happily and romantically dined not so long ago.
Charlie was particularly fond of The Blue Coast because of the nesting swallows that fly in and out of taverna and have their nest sites on the walls above your head; swallows being her absolutely favourite birds. That night they were there in abundance with many fledglings adding to the charming cacophony of sound. One adult became inexplicably disorientated and flew straight at me, hanging briefly on my shirt collar whilst crying out and flapping its wings before selecting its route out of the taverna to hunt down more food for its young. Never in twenty-five years at the Blue Coast had this been seen before; it conjured up all sorts of spiritual meanings in my mind that have remained and are strangely comforting. Was it a communication from beyond the grave? Who knows.
Arrival at Cleopatra Yard and seeing CGIV for the first time this year was a moving and difficult experience. But Rod with his ever enthusiastic approach to life soon had Frank and I rushing around like demented cats, first seeking out the various parts to be refitted and then hurriedly getting them in place. It left only the fitting of the Genoa and anti-fouling the prop for the morning before she was due to be launched at 13.00 hours. Thinking too much about Charlie’s absence was thus impossible until that is, the actual launch, a reverse of the process Charlie watched for the last time in October and was never to see again. I broke down and sobbed as she was lowered back into the water.
The wind was strong but manageable as both yachts departed for Levkas. It gave us an enjoyable Genoa only sail down at a steady 7.5 knots but a mainly motoring session from there to Little Vathi on Meganissi.
The next few days were a mixture of great fun, morose thoughts and broken parts. It seemed as if Charlie Girl IV was missing her mistress and throwing constant wobblies to make her feelings known. The batteries appear to be reaching the end of their days, the battery charger stopped working and is to be sent to Athens for repair, a flag halyard snapped, I split the mainsail sailing too hard, the bimini lets in more water when it rains that it keeps out, the spray hood needed re-stitching (and was) and holds out little more water than the bimini, the boat was full of mould mainly because we had to leave her in a hurry last autumn after some appalling weather, the bilges were full of rainwater and God alone knows how that is getting in.
Thus much time was spent cleaning her up, having various repairs done by others and after two weeks of daily attention to the huge list of household tasks, Charlie Girl seemed to respond to the extensive TLC and settled down into a more cooperative mood.
And a little sailing was managed between times. Some was troublesome such as the ripping of the mainsail but finally culminated in a trouble free sail round from Kalamos to Sivota Levkas on the most perfect of days and in an idyllic breeze that varied from 4-11 knots, on the nose of course, but hey, on an Ionian sea and with such a beautiful view, I’m prepared not to be a gentleman (see photo). It was the Friday before I flew home again for a family and friends fix and, for the first time in five-and-a-half weeks I actually felt happiness and real enjoyment.
Insofar as there is a plan for what comes next, I intend to return to CGIV in a month or two and sail her back down to Aghios Nikolaos on Crete. A berth, her old berth, has been reserved for me and it would seem there is also a warm welcome to go with it. Our friends in Aghios asked my permission (as if they need it) to plant a tree in the marina in memory of Charlie and who and what she was. I am very happy with that if a little surprised that the authorities running the complex appear equally happy with the idea. Plans are being discussed as to the wording of a pottery plaque someone has kindly offered to make to put beneath the tree.
Time to close with the warm thoughts I am having of the lady that, to my amazement, loved me so much and had such a positive impact on my life as well as that of so many other people. I was such a lucky man.
E From Aboard 2011/6
Suddenly the almost unbearable grieving ceased and, as with the curtain rising on a fresh play, my eyes rose and focused, full of hope, on new horizons. Fond memories replaced despair. Feelings of thankfulness for such a wonderful relationship replaced selfish thoughts of loss. Memories of the mutually enjoyed good fortune rose above the anger and bitterness felt at the unfairness of her loss. It was time to move on as she expressly wished I should. Before that could be embarked upon there was one outstanding matter to be dealt with.
Back in 2005 I had developed a few skin blemishes on my face. A subsequently made appointment with a Consultant Dermatologist resulted in both Charlie and I being closely examined, stark naked, from head to toe after which we were severely admonished for having been dilatory in our sun protection. We protested of course as we had been careful to use sun screen and even blocker in addition to the Bimini staying up most of the time. It was to no avail as she argued the evidence spoke for itself. All my blemishes were closely examined and found to be benign but a warning was given to keep a close eye on them for any changes. That I did. None were found on Charlie.
The majority of the blemishes reduced and faded over the ensuing years except for the darkest one under my right eye. In April of this year I noticed it was developing a pale, clear patch in its middle and made a note to have it checked after Charlie died. To have done so whilst she was alive would have caused her considerable additional distress and, frankly, at that time I didn’t really care whether it was malignant or not.
Upon returning home from CGIV in late June I made a non-urgent appointment to see our GP and after examining the blemish he referred me to a Consultant Dermatologist whom I saw on July 20th. I was shaken when she examined it and called a colleague in for a second opinion. Their joint opinion was that it was probably a melanoma, a malignant cancer that should be promptly removed with a good margin of clear cells around it. Leaving the hospital and driving to an appointment in Kingsbridge to meet folk for afternoon tea is not a journey I remember well. All my brain could think was that I was soon to join Charlie. Treatment would be pointless and only delay the inevitable because that is how life had been for her; for us.
Over the ensuing days I managed to get a grip of myself and prepare for the minor operation to be done on August 8th. The surgeon was charming and we talked throughout the forty minutes that the procedure took. His conclusion was that it was probably a melanoma and that he had been unable to remove sufficient clear cell margin around the blemish because its proximity to my eye would have cause too much stretching of the skin. Thus further surgery would be required given confirmation by pathology of a melanoma. He marked the sample as urgent to ensure a report for my return visit in two weeks. As far as I was concerned this amounted to a death sentence.
The intervening period was unbelievably hard; all the family had to know and that constantly emphasised the likely outcome. Over the years I had learnt too much about various cancers and their patterns of behaviour; I was terrified, bitter and angry in equal measures. Early morning nightmares about Charlie’s last moments returned in abundance, drastically affecting my ability to manage the uncertainty and the threat of an early death. All this in a few years time might be fair enough but so soon after Charlie’s passing was unbelievably unfair. It was going to be a long two weeks.
August the 22nd finally arrived. Despite kind offers to accompany me I elected to go alone. Text messages of good luck flowed in abundance. Fifteen minutes before my appointment time a specialist nurse called me in for what seemed to be a preliminary examination. She was extremely complimentary about the neatness of the surgery and how well it had already healed. I agreed with that but did not really care; all I wanted was the biopsy result and to understand what comes next. Then she suddenly said “well it’s all good news and I must apologise to you.” Apologise for what I thought? “It was not malignant. It is not a cancer, just a lesion. We need not have removed it.” It took a few seconds for that to sink in but instinctively I did not agree with her; if there was any doubt there was no alternative but to remove it. I kept the conversation going for a good ten minutes whilst I checked over what I thought I had heard and what that meant. It all checked out as good news. Yes, I was to take great care, particularly when sailing as it would seem I do have a propensity for skin damage and that could result in a cancer. “Just continue what you have been doing; use plenty of protection, blocker even and monitor your skin carefully” were the instructions.
I sat in the car park and somewhat sheepishly sent a text message to as many people as I could remember who knew of the possibility of a problem. Somehow I was finding it difficult to accept I had just been given the all-clear. I, or rather we, had not experienced that for many years, if ever, with Charlie’s various problems. I drove home and by the time I arrived in Bovey Tracey was actually flying at around 50,000 feet viewing a beautiful world beneath me bathed in sunshine.
Over the next few days I came to realise just how stressed I had been and just how much more time I needed to recover from the loss of Charlie. The euphoric sensations emphasised just how low I had been. But I am a fortunate chap as I am so well supported by so many good friends, my overly-large family and ........ ah but no; that can wait for the next E From Aboard and yet another example of what a wonderful, clever lady my dear Charlie was.
E From Aboard 2011/7
The ten days so far spent back on CGIV have been increasingly affected by Charlie’s presence. The places passed or visited, the sails had through waters previously enjoyed and finally sailing down the Ithaki channel, our most favourite of sails’ passed the island she loved so dearly, Ithaki. The playing of an Ex Cathedra C D, also a favourite, brought on unexpected tears whilst passing Captain Corelli’s bay opposite the dark, mystical and mountainous coast of Ithaki; that was a love story we both loved and frequently watched knowing only too well that one day we to would be similarly separated but, unlike them, with no hope of a future reunion in this life.
But Charlie knew me well; obviously. She knew I would not be able to happily continue life alone. Many times we discussed what should be done about that when she died. It was a typically unselfish concern for the man she loved so deeply and this when she was the one who was fearfully approaching her inevitable and unavoidable death. The thought of my unhappiness and loneliness regularly haunted her and to relieve that she actively sought solutions which we frequently discussed.
Understanding, as Charlie did only too well how folk can react to a bereaved partner rapidly finding a new mate she ensured by the time of her death that all the kids knew of her wishes as did the majority of our closest friends,; she excepted her two elder sisters as they had never forgiven or understood their father re-marrying just six months after their mother’s premature death from cancer. Apparently she thought the debate would be pointless and she was right.
Charlie was never one for active female friendships with their attendant morning coffees or slow lunches over which the successes, trials and tribulations of their respective lives would be shared. In all the time I knew her you could count on one hand the number of times she had lunch with such a friend. But latterly she had one friend, a dear friend of whom she was extremely fond and met with on several occasions. Through her ability to see folk for what they really were Charlie came to see her as a perfect match for me and me for her friend.
Nonetheless, at the celebration party after her funeral I was dumbfounded when Ann, my brother’s wife, approached me and in her usual direct way told me of her conversation with Charlie in 2008 during which Charlie made her promise to encourage me to court the lady, sooner rather than later. I was shocked and quite unable to grasp the enormity of what Charlie had done; we had no secrets or so I thought. Whilst we had discussed her preferred choice many times over the previous three years, Charlie had never mentioned having told Ann of her wish and desire, nor me in such definitive terms.
Naturally I wanted to honour all of Charlie’s wishes but how could I contemplate this one whilst I was suffering such grief; it could doom any hope of a successful outcome and that would be a travesty for all concerned.
After my return home in June an opportunity soon arose to speak to Judy. She was speechless; gobsmacked she said later. She loved us both, yes, but the thought of stepping into Charlie’s shoes was incomprehensible. As I elaborated on the matter, telling her who else had known for more than two years, she was furious. All the social events she had been invited to by our friends over the past two years or so took on a different meaning “how dare they” she thought. Nonetheless over the next few weeks I pressed on and gradually Judy responded positively to the prospect.
During those days we openly discussed at length just how difficult it would be if we felt it was going to work. Not least of these difficulties being the strange convention that has built up that dictates you must suffer the loss of a loved one, alone, for an indeterminate period before contemplating the formation of any new relationships. Why do those who think that way feel you should suffer even more than you already have? I am at a loss to explain it, as was Charlie but she knew her sisters would think that way and they did. Who else would we wondered? The local vicar when apprised of the possibility immediately gave it his blessing which presumably suggests the Church has no such hang-ups. Other perceived difficulties flowed from Judy’s own history and my continuing love of the lady I had so tragically lost. They were to prove less of a hurdle than we imagined.
That is the history of where we now are. Judy is my companion and my comforter when the memories break through and tears result. She loved Charlie and misses her too and is finding walking in her path easier than might have been expected, helped perhaps by the knowledge that the relationship has Charlie’s blessing. As love again blossoms in my heart I am able to look forward to what remains of my life with enthusiasm and excitement, not, as it was expected to be, with thoughts of endurance and missed opportunities.
Thank you Charlie for your continuing guidance.
Having got all that out of my system, we can return to the Odyssey.
The weather since our arrival has been perverse. At first with calm and temperatures more attuned to August than to September. Then the Equinox brought violent change, the thunderstorms and accompanying winds of which toppled more than fifty yachts stored ashore, capsized one afloat and temporarily tipped several over before they self-righted as they are designed to do; distressingly it also took three lives. One couple we spoke to referred to donning their life jackets whilst still down below as their yacht tipped over afloat and thinking how bizarre that was in water almost shallow enough to walk ashore from where their mooring had been dragged to by the wind. Fortunately we were in Sivota bay just two miles away and whilst we experienced the same storms for thirty-six hours we did not get the short-lived hurricane force wind that did all the damage in Vliho, just a few cyclonic gale force spells of no consequence to us and just an inconvenience to the ten or so yachts it caused to frequently drag their anchors.
It is often said in ignorance “Oh sailing in the Mediterranean is softy sailing, not real sailing”. Really?
Judy had a few special places she wished to visit once more. Giaos and Lakka on Paxos were soon dispatched in the benign conditions prior to the Equinox. The aptly named Wreck Bay (there is a wrecked freighter on the beach) on the north-west coast of Zakinthos (Zante) was another and a more difficult one to contemplate on a yacht particularly with the weather having become unsettled. But on September 23rd we set off from Poros, under motor, to cover the 23nms to the bay, if the weather would allow it that is. It did and lunch was taken at anchor in the fairly heavy swell just off the beach (see photo) after which we sailed down the rest of the west coast (see photo) in a perfect F3-4 at 5-7 knots to anchor for the night in Ormos Keri and then consume on deck a spetsophai washed down by a couple of glasses of wine as the failing breeze wafted gently around us; a perfect end to a perfect day. Tired and replete we retired to bed early.
The forecast wind for the next day did not materialise forcing us to motor the 25nms east to Katacolon where we re-fuelled, consumed the balance of the spetsophai and retired to bed early in anticipation of an early start the next day.
Up at 06.30 just as the sky was lightening in anticipation of another day, we set off for Methoni some 56nms south. A surprising land breeze saw us making a steady 7.5knts as the sun peeked above the fast receding shoreline (see photo). It did not last and the neither did the forecast NNW’ly F4-6 materialise that would have seen us sailing more than the 16nms we did sail. The donkey was engaged to assist the sails for the rest of the journey thus enabling our arrival in Methoni at a sensible time; 17.00hrs as it happened. As the sun went down over the anchorage with its historic Phoenician and Venetian backdrop of the fortified headland town, we motored our newly acquired dinghy ashore for a supper of “little fishes” (marides) and swordfish with some excellent homemade tatziki, zucchini and xhorta all easily washed down with a half kilo of local white wine. At just €27 it was a delicious bargain.
And here we sit quietly at anchor whilst we await the currently strong winds in the Aegean to abate and change direction so we may approach and round Ak Tainaro (cape Matapan), one of the two most potentially dangerous capes which guard the southern most areas of the Greek mainland and on its rounding to start the next chapter of our adventure, exploring Lakinos Kolpos, another of the areas Judy wishes to visit on our way down to Crete. How long will we have to wait? Who knows, but it could be a week or more.
E From Aboard 2011/8
After three nights in Methoni in very benign conditions it was time to move on. The winds around Cape Matapan remained strong North Easterly making an approach to round inadvisable so we motored slowly the 6nms round to anchor off Finikounda for lunch and then pushed on further round Ak Akritas and North East under sail in a South Westerly up to Koroni. A pleasant evening was spent ashore taking supper and an after-dinner drink before boarding the dinghy back out to CGIV lying peacefully at anchor.
Soon after retiring to bed CG started to bounce up and down quite violently. An unexpected NNW’ly F5 had come in effectively making the anchorage too uncomfortable to sleep, if not untenable. We needed to move. Retrieving 30m of anchor chain in a swell that pitches the bow up and down 3m is not for the faint hearted in daylight let alone on a pitch black moonless night as it was but Judy tackled the task with alacrity.
Around the south side of the fortified headland it was much calmer and the anchor was soon set, bed returned to and a good sleep had from then until morning. Unfortunately the forecast obtained in the morning of NE’ly F6-7 (near gale) was not what was wanted neither was the longer range outlook on Poseidon or Weather-on-Line; we were going to be in Koroni for a few days, not the one night we had hoped.
Koroni is a charming little town with a many old buildings built in the style of its Venetian heritage and more in a later Victorian era. There is some Turkish influence from the times of their occupation. The visitor is well served with an adequate supply of tavernas, bars, shops and banks; many of the bars provide free wifi access, vital for the likes of us who need to manage affairs at home whilst sailing the seas. The town and its attendant promontory are topped by a Venetian fort built by them to protect their trade routes as was the fortified town at Methoni. Unlike Methoni, it is still occupied by a few small houses and small holdings as well as accommodating an extensive and operational monastery and a large church and graveyard. Candles were lit in one of the chapels for Charlie and for one of Judy’s friends who requested she do so.
Three nights were spent anchored off either the north or south of the promontory. They were the worst three nights sleep had in a long time. The second night was disturbed not by the wind but by a 2m swell that rolled in from the south east and, with CG lying to the light offshore breeze, she was beam on to the swell and rolled uncontrollably. The third night spent back on the north side started off as expected, calm and peaceful. But again the unusually strong (F5-6) north wind came in bringing with it a ghastly short swell that again had CG pitching up and down a good 3m’s or more. Moving was less of an option after the previous nights experience so we stayed put until just before dawn and then moved round to the south side. It was flat calm. We should have moved earlier!
The previous day we studied the various weather forecasts and whilst none showed much improvement it was decided there was a chance the rounding of Ak Matapan would be possible on Saturday (September 30th) if managed before 15.00hrs if we believed Poseidon’s forecast and probably no problem at all if believed Weather-on-Line’s. However, the fact that we had a Northerly F6 that was forecast by neither of them did cause concern. Nonetheless, we left at 08.30 under Genoa alone for a brisk sail that lasted a little under two hours and took us a third of the way to the Cape at an average speed of around 6knts. Then the wind died. The rest of the journey and the rounding were done under motor and in no more than a F4, broadly as WOL had forecast.
After a peaceful night in Porto Kayiou, a charming if desolate outpost of human habitation that is no harbour, just a protected anchorage, we motored north at a leisurely pace stopping 4ms up in Ormos Melingani, a small bay with just two old Maniot small holdings converted into holiday accommodation. A ‘triple B’ (bad boys’ breakfast being eggs, bacon, fried bread, tomatoes and anything else that can be found) was prepared and consumed with gusto on deck whilst watching a holiday family busy fishing off the rocks.
As there was still little wind, just as WOL had forecast, we continued our slow cruise north to Fisherman’s Cove, a tiny bay strictly speaking too small for CG to anchor in. It is a spot first visited back in the early 90’s on a flotilla holiday and which prompted embryonic dreams of retirement, it having a small, dreamy cottage that fronts on to its tiny beach and a garden full of wild pampas grass; its narrow entrance protected by 30’ vertical sandstone cliffs. It was a romantic memory and had been re-visited with Charlie back in 2004 for that reason.
Mozart for Meditation was playing whilst a lunch time glass of wine was enjoyed; it contains a rendition of Laudate Dominum that Jackie Evill sang so beautifully at Charlie’s funeral. That and yet further discussions on our mutually unexpected chance of a happy future life brought more tears. Each for different reasons, yes, but both because Charlie believed our individual needs would be well served by being together. It was a moment tinged with much sadness but of hope and surprise also; sadness at her loss but surprise that love could again be found when it was thought for this life finished and hope as it could bring us both the long and happy future that Charlie saw for us. It is up to us to make so.
Yitheon is a fairly large port, once a busy one with ferries coming and going as well as small coastal freighters; but no longer. The town is now a little sleepy and, apparently, largely unused to foreign tourists. Nonetheless, it has tourist bars and tavernas though we saw more businesses for sale than were not; a sight that was disturbingly common on this trip.
After two nights there and a bike ride out to the nearby lighthouse we set off to explore the eastern coast of the Kolpos (gulf). Judy was disappointed with the only places worth a look at so after having motored around all morning, lunch was taken anchored off of Plitra and sails set for the island of Elafonissos some 15nms south. It was a spirited sail with the wind being 10knts South-westerly to start with and then anything up to 25knts North-easterly; the latter had us screaming along at a maximum speed through the water of 9.6knts; adrenalin ran high for an hour or two. We anchored in Ormos Sarakiniko, a beautiful sand rimmed beach with clear azure blue waters laid over a silver-sand bottom on its southern side that offered perfect protection from the brisk northerly breeze.
The medium range forecasts obtained whilst in Yitheon suggested rounding Ak Malea could be achieved in fairly benign conditions on Wednesday 5th and so it was. We rounded the Cape, acknowledging the monks in the hermitage as required by custom in thanks for their prayers and support. The winds here are impossible to predict as the pilot tells you. Rod Heikell (the author of the pilot) has reefed down to pocket hankies in anticipation of a blow only to motor round in a flat calm. Equally he has experienced the opposite! We expected F4 gusting F5-6 and got a gentle F2. We did not complain.
Our intention was to stay in Monemvasia for two nights whilst laundry was done then move on the 60nms east to Milos on Friday. Both plans were blown straight out of the water; first, the laundry is no more and second, the forecast for Milos over the coming weekend had gone from fair to appalling. Southerly winds would make the main town quay untenable, dangerous even and spending three days at anchor in an uninhabited if well protected bay whilst thunderstorms crashed around us in near gale force winds did not appeal; up to five nights in Monemvasia, whilst irritating, was a much better option particularly as the mooring we took up is the safest there is, right in front of the local SAR vessel. No storm would be a problem to us!
The heavily fortified Old Town of Monemvasia, perched precariously as it is on the southern slopes of this huge iceberg like rock, has a magnetism that is difficult to resist. Its ancient, narrow, cobbled streets and its Venetian history reflected in its stone built buildings make it so as do the donkeys that are still required to distribute its needed goods and materials. On the first night supper was to be taken around the harbour but we were drawn inexorably the mile or so up the hill to the Old Town where we ate a simple typically Greek meal of Tatziki, Xhorta and meat balls in tomato sauce whilst quaffing a bottle of very palatable and very local white wine, on a balcony with many others overlooking the moon drenched calm sea and its black profiled mountainous backdrop. After enjoying an Amaretto cocktail and coffee on a similar but tiny balcony in a nearby bar we strolled back down the hill, replete and mellowed by our surroundings and our quietly romantic evening.
The weather deteriorated steadily. On our arrival on Wednesday the pressure was 1020, by Sunday morning it had fallen to 1003. Sun and fluffy white clouds gave way to rain and thunderstorms accompanied by winds up to gale force. Each morning brought not fresh hope of a new day but depression over the even worse conditions than the night before. It is the one potential downside of this way of life; if the weather turns on you, being cooped up in even a fairly large yacht becomes a trial.
Each morning we cycled into the new town to take coffee, Greek style, and log onto the Internet. First the various weather forecast sites were checked in the hope that tomorrow would bring fresh winds from the right direction or, if not tomorrow then a few days hence; each day that break in the appalling weather moved forward one day, never getting closer. After that the bank checks are done and e-mails deleted or responded to. Usually it is a somewhat hurried process, pushed on by the eagerness to get to sea; now the visits were extended by looking up useless information on Google and reading the boring BBC news.
“This morning we ARE going to walk up to the Old Town to take our coffee” said Judy. We would have done too, if it had stopped raining for even a few minutes but later that morning, Sunday, we rode up and then decided to take a chance on Monday’s weather and run in the forecast South-westerly F5-6 the 70nms to Milos. The final decision to go will be taken at 06.00 hours tomorrow morning.
Did we go you might wonder? The next E From Aboard will tell you.
E From Aboard 2011/9
After four days of strong South-westerly winds the forecasts predicted a change during Monday October 10th to North-easterly of a similar strength for yet another week; neither was good for the next leg of our journey, the 70nms to Milos. North-easterly would be far worse and, when remaining time was taken in to account, would most probably mean we would be unable to make it to Milos and thus Thira, the intended highlight of our cruise. After studying pressure maps, wave height predictions, rain and wind forecasts it was decided to go for it if the wind was as forecast at 06.00hrs. SW’ly F4-5 was forecast and it was, so we left.
As dawn broke an hour later the skies were seen in their true colours bringing with it doubts about the wisdom of our move. The horizon was full of forming thunder clouds, most up to 50nms away but visible and audible nonetheless. As the worst had formed close behind us and the wind was now from the west, turning back seemed a worse option than continuing. The genoa was put up and a good speed made for a few minutes, then strangely, the wind died so we motored on.
As forecast the seas came in from the south-west but over the next hour grew to a size not predicted in the forecasts; the resultant corkscrew motion soon had Judy lying down below suffering from a serious bout of seasickness and whilst the wind was again good for sailing, single-handed tackling of any reefing required by an approaching thunderstorm would not have been a wise move so the sails were left furled. Ten hours of this was not going to be much fun for Judy and the irony was that if sailing was possible it would have dramatically reduced the motion that was making her feel so ill. Instead she lay below, with pangs of guilt at not being on deck and feeling positively ghastly every time she tried to get up and do something. Catch 22 in action.
Meanwhile Richard stayed behind the wheel managing the serious squalls that blew through at regular intervals as with each came a substantial increase in wind force and wave height and the attendant risk of a knock down. After a few hours of that and as what turned out to be the worst squall approaching, Judy determinedly stuck her head up into the fresh air and promptly felt a good bit better. She was met by a cheery smile from Richard just as the squall struck and he was pelted with a torrent of hail stones and then torrential rain which soon had the cockpit ankle deep in water. The smile was soon wiped from his face as he glanced at the wind speed and saw that it was registering 63knts (75mph). CG lurched violently to leeward and was close to turning over before he could put the helm hard over and force her dead downwind, a manoeuvre adopted in each squall. From her position half way up the companionway with her head at deck level, Judy could see no sky, just a wall of huge grey seas rushing towards CG’s stern and threatening to fill the cockpit. They never did as CG always rose up and topped the waves; had one broken over the stern it might have been different story but fortunately none did.
There were many such squalls but fortunately only the one with hail and that produced thunder and lightning. The chances of a strike are slim but the potential consequences to a yacht at sea, dire. They were all uncomfortable and noisy but Judy, despite having been close to falling off her bunk as CG violently tilted, was not scared, having complete confidence in CG and the way she was being handled.
With Milos clearly in sight as a black profile against a dark and stormy sky, some relief was felt; the wind strength had abated a little and the squalls were now running parallel to our course and passing more to our south. The relief was short lived.
With 10nms to run to our destination the engine failed, the third time in CG’s history and for the same reason; sludge in the diesel. “So much for the ‘sludge buster’ I’ve been adding with each filling. That certainly does not do what it says on the can” thought Richard. The genoa was raised and whilst progress was slower than before good speed was maintained in the, by then, Westerly F5. As the top of the island was rounded with 5nms to go to reach our intended anchorage, the wind veered to Northerly as forecast by WOL which enabled us to make it round the final headland and head up, westerly, into Chapel bay under a reduced genoa. The wind failed just short of the ideal spot to anchor but being an acceptable depth the anchor was dropped with some relief. The manoeuvre had been practised many times in anticipation of engine failure and paid off yet again.
It took less than an hour to change the blocked filter and clear the blocked fuel line; last year’s middle of the night experience which took a lot longer sped the process enormously thus all was complete before darkness descended. The anchor was then re-laid in an ideal position within the bay, a decision we lived to be thankful for as the wind went north with a vengeance and blew up to gale force all night. In the morning the chart plotter almost gleefully reported we had travelled a total of 6nms in our swinging back and forth on the anchor. Casper, our wind generator, was equally gleeful as he had kept up with CG’s power consumption over night. Still somewhat tired we motored the 3nms across the bay in the gale force wind to moor up on the main town’s quay which is unaffected by such winds. There was hardly a breath though there was an irritating swell which had CG tugging at her mooring warps as if eager to leave again.
A huge bag of laundry was soon deposited with the nearby laundry and a car hired for a short trip out to Pollonia, a charming little port, for a quiet lunch. The remainder of our stay in Milos was fairly mundane partly due to the fact that it had already largely shut down for the winter.
After two nights in Adamas the wind moderated and we motored the 3nms out of Ormos Milou and then sailed in a very gentle breeze and brilliant sunshine, past Pollonia and on to an un-named bay on Poliargos, an uninhabited island, for a lunch time stop. As with Milos its volcanic origin has shaped the landscape with a strange mixture of lava, igneous rock and sandstone filled with small volcanic boulders; the latter appears to have had bollards carved out in places around the edge of the bay around which boats could pass their mooring lines.
After lunch we part sailed and part motored over to Vathi on Sifnos, a long time favourite spot. It was almost shut down but the taverna at the water’s edge, eaten at many times in the past, was open and we were joyfully welcomed and served a very nice simple Greek meal in a quiet and welcoming atmosphere.
The following day we motored in an absolutely flat calm the 30nms over to Ios where we did a little shopping and ate out in an equally friendly and previously used spot. Next came what was always going to be the highlight of the seven week trip, Thira, better but incorrectly known as Santorini. It is considered to be one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year including, we are told, ten cruise ships a day for most of the year.
Judy had never been to Thira. To appreciate the magnitude of its grandeur requires two viewpoints; one from the sea and the other from the land and to do the former requires half decent weather. Saturday October 15th was forecast to be a pleasant, sunny, if windy, day after which the weather was forecast to become stormy, wet and cold for a few days. The sail down to Thira from Ios with a following northerly wind and sea was both exciting and enjoyable and we arrived at the entrance to the caldera around lunchtime. It is about 6nms long by 4nms wide and the new cone to the volcano has grown from its 300m depths roughly in the middle. Going round the cone to view the main town adds a mile or so to the journey and with pauses for photographs the passing took a good two hours.
One is always awe struck at the thought of a piece of rock 6nms by 4nms by around a mile high and deep, exploding, being thus thrust up into the atmosphere allowing the sea to rush in and fill the resultant void, thereby creating a tsunami that was to cause chaos for hundreds of miles around. On passing through this sea-filled void, the yachts depth gauge rarely registers as the depth is generally over 300m (1,000ft) except where later eruptions reduced the depth to 100m; it is there that the numerous cruise ships anchor. Photos cannot capture the atmosphere but some are included nonetheless.
A car was hired the following morning and for two days we explored every nook and cranny of this fascinating place. First the Hora itself and then Oia its near neighbour perched as it is at the northern entrance to the caldera and arguably the more beautiful and natural; Thira, the main Hora, is grossly over commercialised which hides most of its natural and historic beauty. But it has to be done; wending ones way through the narrow cobbled and stepped streets lined both sides with character-full natural stone or painted render buildings that are, regrettably, now tat gift shops, bars or tavernas where even a cup of coffee can cost you €6; elsewhere it can be bought for as little as €2.
The island’s fertile soil is ideal for growing wine making grapes and these are grown at ground level, not on trellises, with the vine wrapped round itself like a winter wreath within which each year’s grape producing shoots are allowed to form. This protects them from the fierce heat and hot winds and also allows them to collect dew overnight, effectively their only source of water. The yield from the vines is a quarter of what is achieved elsewhere but it does produce some startlingly good white wines some of which we were compelled to sample in two wine tastings we went to. The good wines were at the Boutari vineyard where we spent a happy hour or two sampling six wines each and partaking of a simple but beautifully presented light lunch. The whole experience cost just €25; a bargain indeed.
The other wine tasting was poor by comparison but the winery has an underground museum and that was brilliantly presented and well worth the visit.
Some weeks previously the longer range forecast had suggested that Tuesday October 18th would be good for the run down to Crete. During the intervening period the forecasts changed making the idea impossible but a review on the Monday suggested that whilst the sea state would still be a bit high and the day cloudy with light rain, the winds would be near perfect. So we rose at “half-past stupid o’clock” as Judy calls it or 05.30hrs and after a short delay to sort out the navigation lights that had got a touch of Greek disease and gone on strike, we left the marina at 06.00hrs into a pitch black environment, that being yet a further challenge as the first objective is to circumvent an unlit reef that lies inconveniently across ones course; a bit difficult when you can hardly see your hand in front of your face let alone rocks just beneath the surface eagerly waiting to rip the bottom out of your yacht.
That successfully passed the sea was found to be a bit rolly and fears grew of a trip like the one from Monemvasia to Milos. But we needn’t have worried, as dawn broke to an unexpected clear sky and sunshine, the sea state steadily reduced as did the wind which was a little disappointing as we were thus only able to sail 14 of the 68nms down to our intended anchorage off the historic island off Spinalonga (see photo). [Ref: Victoria Hislop’s book ‘The Island’]. The following morning we slipped a further 2nms into the lagoon and anchored off Eloundha, going ashore to do our usual Internet chores and for Judy see its worth.
Over lunch we met the first of the Aghios Brit expats, Rob, a motor boat owner and that evening Phil, a fellow sailor, as well as Tony & Tessa who drove round from the marina to join us on board for a drink and then to dine ashore. From all four we were able to catch up on most of the marina gossip and discuss in outline the planting of the memorial tree for Charlie; a kindly thought of those we knew who wished to do something in memory of, in their words, a lovely and courageous lady.
On October 20th, surprisingly, exactly the day we originally planned, we arose early to a stirring sunrise with plans to visit Spinalonga island and then to sail the remaining 10nms down to Aghios Nikolaos marina where CGIV was to be over-wintered. But first we visited Spinalonga itself, something that had not been done in many visits to the inlet over the years. It is an interesting if somewhat spooky place, not because of its Venetian past but its more recent use as a leper colony that was not finally shut down until the early 1960’s.
That absorbed a couple of hours by which time a gentle breeze had risen. It was time for the final sail of the year and one that had been tried many times but never completed without recourse to the donkey. The sails were set and quickly filled as we rounded the top of the island and headed first east and then south towards our destination. It was largely a downwind sail at a gentle 4knots that slowly reduced threatening a total loss of the wind and the need to employ the donkey but our luck held and we sailed right to the marina entrance before reluctantly dropping the sails and preparing to enter the marina. It is always a sad moment.
We had twelve days to prepare CG for her hibernation and to enjoy Aghios and at least some of Crete’s treasures before our flight home on November 2nd. The weather was again kind in that it only rained once and that was literally an hour after we had dropped and bagged the sails on the 25th and had washed all the lines and laid them out ashore to dry. The rain washed down the decks and soaked the lines in fresh water leaving both clean and salt free. It took a day or two for the lines to fully dry out during which time shackles and blocks were removed, winches and other exposed equipment covered and the boom laid down to the deck. It was time to hire a car and show Judy some of the Cretan treasures.
First was Knossos, the site of a huge Minoan palace excavated by a British archaeologist who controversially rebuilt some of the buildings in concrete duly coloured to represent stone, render or paint as he thought it may have looked originally. His peers and other historians have argued furiously since as to the wisdom and accuracy of his endeavours. It is nonetheless a place that has to be visited.
After an hour or two discussing the merits and demerits of Knossos as it is now seen, we headed up into the mountains to find the Boutari vineyard visited before by Richard and Charlie and from where some superb red wines had been purchased at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately it was a public holiday, Ochi day, celebrating the day the Greeks said ‘NO’ (Ochi) to the Italian request for them to surrender in the 2nd World War which was then followed by a battle the Greeks won. Unfortunately the Germans then took them on and Greece was overrun.
The following day we again drove up into the mountains to the Lasithi plateau, a huge flat plain that, by appearance, looks like the bottom of a crater surrounded as it is by a mountain range several thousand feet above sea level. Until very recent times it was largely cut off from the rest of Crete, there being no road access, just one or two tracks. It reportedly stood largely independent of the German occupation, they realising that its mountainous approaches from all angles made it almost unassailable other than from the air and, because of its agricultural nature, easily self supporting. Perhaps an uneasy truce would be a better description but we must allow ancient Greek mythology to be added to, do we not? And on that score we left the car and climbed several hundred feet up the steep sides of the plateau to visit the cave where Zeus was brought up to protect him from a father who wished to eat him as he had his other offspring’s; is this a solution we could consider for unruly children? Perhaps not.
One evening, the taverna previously known as Corto Maltese, about which we have written many times, put on a special outdoor evening of Indian and Arabic food with live music to match. It must have very entertaining as, despite the chilly nature of the evening, we were shocked to find it was 1am when got back to the boat a mere two minutes walk away. The food was excellent and the music and dancing enchanting; they played solidly, without a break, from 9pm until after we left.
Sunday October 30th brought in the winter hours with the clocks going back and the Sunday BBQ returning to a 1pm start after which most gathered to witness Richard planting a tree in memory of Charlie. It was very touching thought that arose through many associated with the marina wishing to attend Charlie’s funeral but for very obvious and understandable reasons being unable so to do. They felt it would be an appropriate gesture to somebody they both loved and greatly admired. It was readily supported by Aghios Nikolaos’s council who own and run the marina, many of the staff of which also had reason to remember her with fondness; she always had time for them and their problems, never wishing to make anything of her own.
Richard tried to carry off the ceremony with humour as Charlie would have wished and largely succeeded thanks to Colin’s screed that he read out at the funeral and Richard read out here (see Charlie’s funeral page). It is full of love and good humour, largely at Richard’s expense, and expressed so well what many thought of Charlie. But eventually the event got to Richard and the tears again flowed as he finished the reading. Judy, bless her, had volunteered to take photographs and videoed much of the ceremony; her tears were hidden by her sunglasses and the camera. Afterwards there was much emotion shown and support given by those present. Those who could not be there took the time and trouble to communicate their thoughts before or after the ceremony. The whole event was a touching gesture that made Richard very proud to have been Charlie’s husband and soul mate for nearly forty years.
Thank you to all of those associated in any way with the planting of the bay tree and the production of the memorial plaque. Charlie would have been very embarrassed but hugely moved by the warmth you all showed. It is good to see folk at their best and that was seen here, in abundance.
Now these “E’s from Aboard and Abroad” will return to their original purpose, to advise and entertain our friends and family who like to know what we are up to and where we have been.
The seven week cruise has been bizarre but hugely successful. Further adventures are hoped for and some are already planned. Trips to Manchester and London have already occurred involving theatre, classical concert and gallery visits as well the meeting of new friends and family; all has been most enjoyable. Next comes a trip to some European Christmas Markets and after that, well who knows. But next Spring it will be back to the boat and an extended trip up through the Dodecanese to the Eastern Sporades and heaven knows where else. It may be the last ever trip on Charlie Girl IV but then again...................