Monday, August 15, 2011

Road Tripping

Road tripping

30th July to 5th August - Brindisi to Rotterdam on wheels
Wheels really are a wonderful thing, as is a very powerful engine that takes you on average about 60knots up a long straight piece of tarmac, up and down hills and around surprisingly tight corners that appear frequently on Italian motorways.  You can go anywhere you like.  You can get out and walk for hours if you want, you can fill it full of stuff (and fuel helps) and only worry about checking that the tyre pressure is right, you can put anything inside it and you can even sit back and relax whilst on the ‘wheel’ engaging cruise control, all the while being able to choose your desired temperature, listen to music AND talk to your fellow passenger ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

fi and our new wheels

In our wonder-mobile we rocked up late to a cheesy caravan park / camping-site close to the motorway and on the East coast of southern Italy.  A bit of a bleary-eyed young man showed us to a shabby little bungalow that night, in amongst the olive trees and kindly showed us how to put up the bed - a REAL bed!!  Something that didn’t have a wooden box above it (40cm) that you bashed your head on almost every morning, especially when waking up to do a night-shift. 

JG at the bungalow

The walls didn’t move, there was no creaking, clanking or winches turning above you, neither a roaring engine a mere meter away.  It was quiet.  Peaceful and still.  The night was clear and crisp, the moon was still out and despite the funny (hence i say cheesy) party in the nearby bar (reminded me of happy old times in Scoutscroft!) our only concern was the two mosquitos that found our room to be theirs too.
With an almost drunk-feeling the following morning, due to the lack of swaying, roll motion, we also awoke to the silence.  Before long however, it was back to the LOUD Italian radio and on the road again.  At lunch time, the stop in Ancona gave us the opportunity for our last swim in the Med with JG’s friends Francesca, Alessandro and baby Fillipo.  A beautiful little crowded beach with paraglyders enjoying the thermals above. 
JG on the mountain top with the paraglyders behind - awesome little bay near Ancona
Foot down and off on the long drive all the way up North to France / Saint Jeannet to stay with my Uncle Chris and Aunt Frances. 
One slight problem to tackle before taking the tight bend however, was off-loading.  Our grand Qashqui had her load squished into a twingo and thankfully its cute trailer! Who would have thought a twingo could pull all our gear?
And then, WOW – what a feeling to be around family and be in a familiar home – complete bliss – especially when washed down with a champagne, delicious red wine and good conversation.

 Fi playing chase around the pool with Solo

beautiful lillies on the pond

Brambles pup - all grown up and as naughty as his mother - SOOOOLOOOOO!

Feeling completely spoilt, a morning swim was of course necessary followed by delicious pain au chocolat..... mmmmmm, (I do love the French style).  Car swapping and collections followed by taking a trip to Nice and back to Italy.  With more stories to tell and listen to it was another enjoyable evening at the bottom of the Baou on our return – next time we’ll take out the climbing gear.
This time however it was re-packing a clio that gave us a challenge and even without that desired new roof-rack it was SUCCESS! (Even if the suspension was being a little tested).  :0)

packing up the poor clio

Who is that next to a white box......

now who is on the run... (Chris and Frances leaving us to St.J alone!)

Back to Italy and up up up – last taste (mmmm to Buffalo mozzarella) of Italy beside the lovely lake Como and then into the most magical landscapes we’ve come across, Switzerland!  Mountain peaks, lush green valleys with sparkling blue lakes, bushy trees dotting the picture postcard perfection decorated with the sweetest little and big wooden houses all succeeded in entertaining us before the storm.  And then it began...... the thunder and lightening struck with pounding rain and a wind whipping through the valleys, it hammered and made it near impossible to see, it roared around us and blew like crazy........ no real bother though – we’re in a CAR! ;0)

Mountain storm - whoop to real rain!

'boof to you' (we where in the que for the tunnel so i wasn't driving that badly)

passing time in the queue for the massssive tunnel - JG practicing his punch

That'll be the way to sort it! UK v FR

Loving the activity we didn’t even get too disturbed by the 1 ½ hr wait to get through the hugest tunnel – amazing! And many many more of them followed and so we wished we had more than one Amy Winehouse CD (yes, she was terrific, but after the 10th time hearing her it was time for something more positive, poor girl, RIP) to get us through them.  With ropey gps system and no paper map (arrrgh) we finally made our last-minute stop in Strasbourg to meet Pauline and Guillaume. 

 Cathedral in Strasbourg

Lovely quaint old town Strasbourg

(picture tool doesn't let me rotate anymore)- Fi by the cathedral

Mr Swan - getting narky he was!

Again, fabulous architecture in Strasbourg

 JG and the flowers
With no evening left to enjoy together, (some people have to work after all ;0) ), we decided to stay   the next day also and so where able to enjoy the beauty of this mixed-up pretty city – seriously cute architecture and thanks to P & G we even got to experience the very best of Alsancan Cuisine – Tarte Flambee with local wine in a highly recommended restaurant in a tiny little village, (still can't remember the name, but i highly recommend it! ;0) ).  Even better when topped-off with fresh-fruit ice-cream in front of a Cathedral light-show – impressive little Strasbourg i have to say!

 Pauline in the lovely restaurant

 A small reunion - JG, Pauline & Guillaume

 SUPER YUMMY Tarte Flambee in the wonderful restaurant - Guillaume & fi

 In front of Louis Vuitton - Fi umbrella AND Mr. Cloony's reflection - get in!

An early start got us back on the road that became increasingly familiar...... soon we saw signs for Venlo (Oceanco parties), Eindhoven, (cheap flights), s’Hertogensbosch, (my ex-colleague John is from there!), Breda, (business trips for JG),

 Somewhere close to home?? (take a look that sky!)

 Dordrecht, (friends live there too, and a cold cold November day with Lucille), passing Oceanco, (HELLO OLD COLLEAGUES!!) and finally, ROTTERDAM!!! 
Never mind the unpacking that followed, the sorting, the washing and the list of things we’ve got to do....... 
 Fi loving the old-faithful - CLIIIIIO!

JG after climbing all those lovely narrow Dutch stairs with not even all of our things! (no he didn't do it all himself!)

I've never been happier to be in the Netherlands, Rotterdam or home.


And that's it.

This is fifi typing on her old faithful computer (it lasted the whole trip i just now i nearly spilt my big cup of earl-grey on it!) in a very familiar room, on a comfy seat enjoying the chilled music playing in the background.
A BIG thanks to a lot of people - for your support, help, advice, encouragement (especially the texts and emails along the way), crewing, wanting-to-crew and putting up with us during the preparation, duration and now, the aftermath! 

(Especially our nearest and dearest :0) ) 
All the best, 

Fi & JG
(kiss, hug, kiss )

Saturday, August 13, 2011

‘Au Revoir’ Ragged Company

‘Au Revoir’ Ragged Company
reflection.....? no, no time yet, pack, clean, organise - 27th to the 30th July
Salty, stiff lines ashore, anchor locked in position, mooring line fastened to the bow.  Our boat of three months, Ragged Company, settled in nicely next to a slightly rugged ‘Gin Tonic’, (how appropriate ;0) ) following our  smoother than ever approach.  The gears allowing me to engaged reverse on the first attempt (!) was very much welcomed as was a (good-looking) friendly Italian man who assisted us to our final mooring position and instructed us how to deal with the paper-work, (JG’s Spanish skills becoming particularly useful at this stage).
The sparkling new marina consisted of everything we required for once; water at the tap, electricity, toilets and showers (HOT!!! :0) ) and even a ropey internet connection!  Wonderful.
So back to it – CLEANING TIME!  Allllll out on deck; wet-weather gear, lifejackets, ropes, lines, bikinis, boardies, kayaks, seat covers, snorkelling gear.... binoculars, cameras (waterproof ones), compasses, you name it, if it could have got salt on, it was there on the pontoon ready for a good old wash-down; Including us (photos on non-processed waterproof camera cause fi’s AMAZING digi-waterproof camera died a death. :0( )! Fun times in the sunshine.
Wet-weather / sailing gear pre-cleaning

All those bits and bobs, buckets and lines to do!


The following afternoon we took a trip to the completely confused customs guys in town.  And they are meant to be professionals..... but they couldn’t figure out how we where there. 
nerves and fingers crossed - finishing the paperwork off when re-entering the EU!

 Anyway, we passed through with nods, smiles and a few hair-tossing gestures and were left to enjoy the delights of a rather closed Brindisi.... I’ll really never get used to this ‘we’re closed all afternoon malarkey!’.  Pizza and Gelato available though – no complaints there.
 JG in Brindisi

In addition to catching up on our forty (thousand) winks, it was more serious deck scrubbing, sail- wrapping, gutting and cleaning every locker, surface and cupboard and double checking the toilet valve really was closed that took up our time. 
Fi - on deck duty

and JG also!

Ragged Cmpany (the O fell off) was looking glam!
You’d imagine Southern Italy to be as sunny as the rest of the Med but no, we got rain, clouds and a lot of wind (not that we were caring much for the latter anymore – cheekily!).  The most exciting was on our last night in the marina when we decided to use the local yacht-club restaurant – luckily being two we just jumped up, grabbed our dishes and ran for shelter but with limited space in the bar, the others with typical Italian style family tables had 8+ people to salvage delicious plates of food from and find shelter in the tiny bar..... very funny and VERY wet!!! Ooooh but it was great; lashing, fresh, rain!

lashing rain from marina bar

The last few hours around RC were somewhat bizarre. Thankful for her taking care of us but relieved to be leaving her in safe berth we walked our stuff (and that’s a LOT of stuff btw) to the hire car......

JG & Fi by Ragged Company in Brindisi

bubbles onboard! (fi)

Y goodbye? (Fi, JG and RC)

Time to walk - JG and Fi - from RC

Don’t know what I did right that morning but I got a free upgrade and 2nd driver – SWEEEEET NISSAN Qashqui – think I’m loving the Italians. 
Triple check of the lines, hatches, locks, valves and gas bottle, we walked away from our S/Y Ragged Company with heads held a little too high..... My super duper BIG black hat decided to give me one last test and flew straight into the lovely marina water – URGH!  Subsequently it was one quick shower for me and some diplomacy skills for JG – marina man was not all pleased about us leaving RC alone there.

WET black hat :0(, fi and the swish Nissan!

And so, Au revoir Ragged Company..... :0( / :0)
I guess one can only try to imagine the mixture of feelings that we had driving away in our spacious, fully-packed, flashy car from the marina holding safely our home and companion of the last three months, SY Ragged Company.

On the run

On the run
Pirates in Greece, fleeing to Albania and finally towards Italy -  18th July to the 27th July
It was a nervous departure from Galaxidi back out into the Gulf and only after a few hours we took an anchorage spot in the dark ready for an early start the following morning. 
Fi - taking the early morning shift - little bit sleepy!

Passing under the huge suspension bridge and coming out into the more open Ionian Sea calmed the nerves and allowed us to enjoy having those sails back up.

Fi with everything under control.

'three to port, one to starboard!'

The gulf of Corinth suspension bridge, passed two weeks late but......

with success! (mast under bridge)

Nevertheless, the feeling that officials and Port police were watching out for us popping into a marina kept us on our toes and so we sailed and motored when flat calm, through the magnificent Ionian Islands overnight.  It was so sad to not be able to go ashore to Kefalonia, Ithaca or Zakynthos; the islands I have dreamed of returning to since I visited with my family 17 years ago.  Those crystal blue beaches and soaring cliffs will have to wait for another day I’m afraid.  Sailing quickly passed them was almost torturous until we arrived in the beautiful fingers of Meganisi!

sunset crusing


fi reading up on the situation

Whilst in the sheltered, crowded, tree-lined anchorage of one finger, (with rat and wasp traps erected), our trip took a turn.  In order to sort out some paper-work and confirm things with the owner we had a small chance to explore a tiny bit of the island on foot in order to find internet.  Some Ozzies tried to pull up our anchor at one stage but thankfully refrained from doing so after some encouraging steering advice, our Maltese neighbours served some delicious wine, whilst expressing the necessity of air-con on-board a yacht (?($#*%@), (never mind the water maker and real shower!) and the anchor pulling in a near 15m of depth went surprisingly smoothly at 5am. 
Originally we’d planned to cross to Italy although with increasing suspicions regarding the lifeline of the engine, alternator and gearbox and with more serious issues to put right we changed the plan and made way north through the Lefkas canal,
early morning passage of through the Lefkas canal

onwards to Corfu, through (although my foot never touched the island) for a windy, wavy night (more anchor nerves) and finally made a leisurely exit from Greek waters (breath!) into...... Albanian.

anchor chain

head sail furler in corfu

the last flight of the Greek flag...... :0(

Declaring innocence!..... freedom flag upon entering Albanian waters.


Welcomed warmly on the peer by a young Albanian lady we set RC alongside the quay in Sarande as the only sailing boat.... only two other motor boats there. 
Alongside in Sarande - Albania

 Having had several warnings to steer clear of Albania we were on alert and feeling slightly apprehensive when crossing into her waters.  Contrary to this however, the people were delightful and super helpful.  Although slightly costly, the paper-work was almost a doddle and with a shore-pass in hand we were able to take time to explore the funny little, slightly shabby city of Sarande.
A total mixture of styles awaited us; modern internet and gaming cafes, to old markets with grumpy ladies (when you didn’t have the Leke to buy their honey... eeek!), modern beach-side buildings next to rubble sites all being appreciated by the many Albanians, and few foreigners on holiday in the sunshine.  The food was just the same as in Greece, except the Tzataziki... they served us a massive pile of yogurt with a cucumber and tomato on top with a swish of olive oil – grrrrr to that - Looks aren’t everything!

Albanian Tzatiki..... one thing they should leave to the Greeks!

JG enjoying the relaxed palm-tree shore side.

A new flag - ALBANIAN!

Some of the not so lux places.

Oh yes - DODGUMS!!!


fi sleeping on deck to keep an eye of those fenders during the nights swell..... lovely morning though!


 RC moved, JG and fi Y'ing it?

JG and Fi - time to leave Albania walking....?

Leaving was slightly trickier but finally the message got across that we wanted to leave VERY early in the morning and so needed a stamp in our passports when the office was open! 
And so to our ‘crossing’.  With our maximum speed of 3.5knots (using the engine that is) we headed away from the sunrise and continued west towards the heel of that famous Italian boot.  The high land of Albania’s coast refused to leave our sky line (I guess our speed wasn’t helping the mission) even when the sails were hoisted.  With wind in our favour we managed a few hours of really enjoyable sailing before it turned to force us upwind just touching the 3knot mark at times....... Trying to save engine hours (and our clutch) we painfully continued at these speeds getting the occasional lift and gust to help us on the way. 
JG taking us from Albanian waters to the West at sunrise

Fifi unhappy with whats ahead!

The skies were cloudier than we’d had on the entire trip and so it was no surprise to see rainy patches forming in front of us.  Preparing ourselves we hit the squall under a reefed main but still got the shock and knock from the full force of the med-style wind. 

Fi happy to be back in the sunshine (eating the last of the (now-soggy) chocci biscuit cake

Thankfully within half an hour of battling to windward (the wind jumped a full 180 in about 2seconds – seriously impressive!) and getting a proper soaking we reappeared on the other side fully bracing ourselves for the next squall that looked to be approaching..... but no, nothing for the rest of the night.  Back to our 3hours on and 3hours off we bobbed along through the night, gaining sight of the flat land ahead and a few very happy jumping dolphins just before sunset.  The night sky was impressive when the clouds parted and the soft orange glow that grew as we neared Italy comforted the journey.

Our last sunset on the water.... :0(

With breezes coming from all directions we feared the last 9nm might take far long than we might like but thankfully we got closer to the entrance to Brindisi and dodged the morning ferries as we approached the marina...... THE marina where our worries and nerves were to be left behind! :0) 
This is a soggy Fi writing in the land of rain!