Friday, 19 September 2014

Filleted Salmond

Lori and John showing off just because they have a dinghy.

Yesterday the Scottish people served up a feast of Filleted Salmond. The smiling Cheshire cat has had the smile wiped off his face. We can now all heave a huge sigh of relief.  The markets have responded positively, jobs north of the border are secure, our nuclear subs can continue to use Scottish lochs, whisky will not, after all, be priced in euros and, as a bonus, Scottish MP will be banned from voting on purely English matters. Quite right too.

Of course the SNP will continue to bang on about separatism, the joy of the kilt and ‘their’ oil but with such a decisive defeat little Alex Salmond has far less authority than he had two days ago.

We are going out for dinner this evening to celebrate and have invented a cocktail to mark the event. It’s called a Jock on the Rocks…in memory of the defeated SNP leader. It comprises a shot of whisky, a measure of lies, a generous helping of deceit, loads of bitters and plenty of chilling ice. Cheers.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Gaggle of Giggling Glaswegian Girls

Little Vathy, Meganisi

I wonder if it’s an omen. On the day Scotland votes on whether or not to split from the UK we find ourselves tied up next to a Gaggle of Giggling Glaswegian Girls. Well, when I say girls I’m being a wee bit kind. Maybe a Gaggle of Giggling Glaswegian Grannies would be more accurate.  They are here to celebrate a birthday but I can’t help feeling that’ll be forgotten when the referendum votes are counted and the result declared.

It transpires they are ‘No’ supporters – I do hope they’ve lodged their postal votes.

I have to admit I’d be very tempted to stay up through the night and follow the election programme. As it happens I was in Glasgow for the last election programme I worked on. I ran the studio feeding Scottish results into the Radio 4 Election Special. I have to admit it was a bit boring – the turn out was low, no surprises, no shock defeats, no tears at the count as a long standing MP lost his seat to a young upstart. As a producer you hope for drama, upset, a cliff-hanger. I didn’t get any of that.

Tonight it will be very different -  the stakes are high, very high. The turn out looks like being astronomic, passions are over-running, there’s even talk of violence in the streets with pubs staying open all night for the count. I rather wish I was running that studio tonight, instead I’ll have to make do with keeping an eye on what’s happening via the internet. Aye Jimmy, it’ll be gripping stuff.

A change of cruising direction

Cantski underway between Port Leone and Itaca
We have been pursuing a slightly different approach to our cruising these last few weeks and I have to say it’s so much better. In the past we have tended to hop from pontoon to quayside with the occasional anchorage in a bay. That’s worked well except that the pontoons and quays tend to be busy and taken over by flotilla boats. Now if we had wanted to share our holiday with the masses we’d have gone to Blackpool but we don’t. The problem with free anchoring is that you have to be more self-sufficient. You need to make sure the batteries are topped up, the water is topped up and the fridge is topped up. All of those things mean being tied up and connected to water, power and shops. Add to the mix the demise of our Zodiac dinghy and life at anchor becomes a little more challenging and isolated.

Enter Lori and John on board Cantski. They have made us realize that it’s possible to be self sufficient afloat; you don’t need an umbilical supplying water and power, you can stock the fridge with essentials such as beer and wine and survival is possible without a Stavros offering you a souvlaki.

Now it has to be said we’d have been up a creek without a paddle, or a dinghy for that matter, had Lori and John not kindly provided our link to the shore generously ferrying us from Breeze to whichever beach was tempting.  

In Port Leone we all four explored this most bizarre of Greek villages. It was a thriving port, as it’s name suggests, but in 1954 an earthquake severed the water supply and although the houses were not destroyed the village became untenable and people left. Today just the shells of the houses are left, eerie ghost like skeletons now inhabited by rats. But the church is beautifully maintained and holds regular services. Pilgrims visit twice a year. We anchored overnight in water we once would have considered a bit deep (18 metres) but thanks to our new l-o-n-g chain it’s not a problem.

This morning we moved on. Now in theory we should have had a pleasant reach to Big Vathy. In practice it was a close haul when the wind blew. It didn’t for most of the time and to be honest when it did eventually deliver a puff we couldn’t muster the energy to deploy more than the jib.

Lori and John n Cantski

We are now anchored in Skhoinos Bay just to the east of Big Vathy. It’s a stunning bay and we are sharing it with Jaguar – a large super yacht which. Google tells us, is available for charter at a quarter of a million euros a week. OK, so they have a power plant able to supply the electricity needs of Vathy, they have a watermaker capable of filling their swimming pool several times over every day, they have freezers and fridges stuffed full of every food and drink you could wish for and more RIBS (forget dinghies) than Germaine Greer. But are they having as much fun? Of course not. Because fun is measured not in the size of your yacht, not by how much you’ve spent buying or renting it, not by the toys you’ve got to play with but by the company you share your experiences with. Mates win every time and we are lucky to have some of the best…not that we’d tell them that, of course.

Monday, 15 September 2014

She’s a canny old bird.

Will I have to change my ensign?
We now know what the Queen really thinks of Scottish independence. In a carefully stage-managed  exchange between well-wishes and Her Majesty at Crathie Kird on the Balmoral Estate, to which, unusually, the press were invited to eavesdrop, she told the assembled crowd that the “Scottish people need to think very carefully about how they vote.”

You have to hand it to her. In one sentence she has maintained political impartiality yet made it abundantly clear that she would be displeased with a 'Yes' vote.

Even Republicans have to admit to be impressed.

Meanwhile back here on the Greek island of Meganisi it’s windy. High winds all night and much the same today.

I blame the Scots.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The world is going crazy.

Cantski en route to Meganisi - shot between the squalls and showers.
What on Earth is happening?

The Scots are poised to follow piper Salmond over the cliffs waving farewell to the UK as they plummet into financial, global and and international oblivion. Meanwhile out here in Greece the weather is just as demented. Instead of the almost guaranteed sunshine and moderate winds we've had storms, torrential rain and gales. We got caught in a nasty un-forecast storm several days ago and then today while positioning from Preveza to Meganisi we got drenched in a downpour which came as much as a surprise to the forecasters as it did to us.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the world Putin wants to march back into a Cold War with the west, a commercial jet is shot out of the sky by a surface to air missile, Islamist fanatics are carrying out appaling atrocities in the name of religion and the Mayor of Calais blames us for the illegal immigrants massing at the port yet the French authorities fail to do anything to deter them. Under EU rules they should be applying for asylum status in Italy or France. Instead there’s an international game of pass-the-parcel being played out.

The world has gone crazy. I’d like to spool back twenty years please.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Where did that come from?

All that’s left of our dinghy!
After a truly awful few hours battling the storm we are now starting to analyse just what happened. We checked our notes and the forecast was winds S3 veering SW2. What we actually got was NW8, thunderstorms, torrential rain and big seas!

Even now, the forecast is saying S4 yet what we are actually getting is NE2. Gives confidence in the forecasts doesn’t it.

Having now looked at the forecast for the next four or five days there seems no sign that the usual pattern is about to return. High winds, rain, cloud cover and thunderstorms (now forecast) seem to be a feature of the weather picture for the next week.

Once anchored last night we did what any British sailor would do, we made a cup of tea. A hot cuppa boosted morale, warmed us up and brought a bit of normality into a pretty awful experience. We peeled off our soaking clothes, put the heater on, warmed and dried ourselves, doned clean dry clothes and were relieved we were at anchor and safe.

Sailing is one long learning experience and we’d do things differently next time - for a start we’d have the dinghy on two short lines. But as unpleasant as it was it did prove the boat is more than seaworthy. At no point did I fear for Breeze’s safety. She’s a dry boat, we didn’t get a drop of water below despite being drenched on deck. The electronics made navigation easier as the cockpit workload increased. We put the standby potable VHF in the microwave (an emergency Faraday cage) so that if lightning knocked out our main comms and nav kit at least we’d have one means of communicating.

Cantski at anchor off Vonitsa in the Gulf of Amvrakikos - peace at last.
Today we have been in the Amvrakikos Gulf – a stunning inland sea which is home to dolphins and turtles. We are anchored in a small bay tucked behind an island. It’s magic and reminds us why we do this.

Also, never underestimate the therapeutic power of a cup of tea.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Freak storm – we survived, just!

Calm after the storm - at anchor at last -  but sill the ensign takes a battering.

We have just come through the most scary two hours I have ever spent afloat. The forecast was southerly, F3 – perfect for us to position to Preveza ready for the trip north to Paxos tomorrow. A couple of miles south of the main Prevaza channel a thunderstorm gathered on the horizon. It moved menacingly towards us rather like Alex Salmond advancing on Westminster. We had just the jib set and took it down to avoid getting caught in a squall.

The storm hit; torrential rain, vicious winds, big seas. The boat was heeled over with no sails set. I’d heard about boats running under bare poles but never experienced it. The lashings of rain were cold. The white water coming over the bow was warm, like a hot shower. We were soaked – wet through to the skin. It was a struggle to hold the boat on course as seas swept her wildly off course. Visibility dropped as the rain increased. The seas were building, the lightning was far too close for comfort, the thunder shook the boat. It took Jo all her effort to hold on as the boat pitched. We found the outer channel buoys in the heavily reduced visibility and headed into Preveza.

In the high winds and big seas the dinghy flipped over. It was not long before the dinghy ripped free leaving just the painter and tow bar attached to our stern. The dinghy disappeared astern driven by the winds and waves and is now doubtless on a beach somewhere.

We followed the channel, and it’s dog-leg, and followed John and Lori on Cantski into an anchorage near the Cleopatra Marina. The seas calmed a little thanks to the shelter provided by the land and Jo bravely ventured up front to untie the anchor. Thanks to our radio remote control we were able to drop the anchor from the relative safety of the cockpit.

After two hours of pure mayhem we were anchored and safe. It was, without doubt, the worst experience afloat either of us have ever had and not one we wish to repeat.

However, we are not alone. The storm is wreaking havoc elsewhere. As I am typing this a Sail Ionian charter boat has sent a Mayday call. The people on board are inexperienced and the Greek coastguard is trying desperately to discover where they are, what their problem is and who is on board.

Lightning lights up the skies as the thunder continues to echo around the hills.

We have received text messages telling of horrors further south. In Spilia Bay the surprise storm nearly ripped apart the pontoon in Porto Spilia as ten guys tried to hold on to it and prevent it breaking free with boats attached. While a few hundred yards away a boat was practically rammed onto the beach by the unforecast winds.

Now the rain is easing, the winds have died and the clear crisp air which follows a front transforms the skyline. Instead of a blanket of impenetrable grey we have the twinkling lights of Preveza – sodium street lights, neon signs on the bars, pin-prick anchor lights from the many boats recovering from the earlier mayhem. I think I may even be able to see a star.

Just a reminder; the forecast was for light southerly winds, a millimeter or two of rain. What we actually got was a fierce thunderstorm, Gale Force 8 winds, high seas and several inches of rain.

We are safe. I propose a toast. To the forecasters in the Greek Met Office. Thanks guys.