Friday, 17 August 2012

Goodbye Med, Hello Britain

May 2012

After recharging our batteries with a relaxed stay a Sally’s apartment in Southern Spain we decided to take up Moksha crewmate, Phil’s offer to stay at his place at Arnside in the Lake District of the UK for a while. We’d never seen any of the north of England. It was a great option as we still had not found a replacement boat after our crew spots on Astor disappeared. We also really enjoy Phil’s company. He's always good for a laugh. Good craic as he says.

April 30 saw us on an Easyjet flight out of Alicante. The discount airlines are incredible. Spain to the UK for 49 Euro each. That’s the good news. At 23 kilograms, each of our duffle bags cost over 100 Euros as check through luggage. Rob argued that as he was 83 kilos and only had to pay 49 for his seat couldn’t we just buy the bags a ticket each and they could strap in beside us in the cabin. Unfortunately without a passport no one is allowed to fly so Mr and Mrs Dufflebag were refused tickets and had to slum it in the very expensive cargo hold.

We landed at Manchester airport to be greeted by rain and temperatures still in the single figures. All a bit of a change after Spain’s sunshine. Phil picked us up in his pickup which was really appreciated because lugging our bags on and off crowded trains is a pain.
Looking over the River Kent estuary from Arnside Knot above Phil's cottage

We certainly felt extremely welcome at Cherry Cottage down a narrow lane in the very quaint village of Arnside. It’s an incredibly picturesque setting facing the estuary of the River Kent . When the tide’s out you can literally walk across the wide inlet. However the shore is covered in warning signs about the danger of being caught by the incoming tide. It comes upstream as a wall of water and a warning siren is sounded in advance of every tide change during daylight hours.
Before now we'd only ever seen these in movies such as Rob Roy

The days sped by as we went on some very relaxing walks all over the Arnside Knott, the hills above Phil’s cottage, that are a combination of nature reserve and publically accessible cow pastures inhabited by a breed of long horned, long haired cattle we’d only ever seen in movies. It was all so peaceful and the views were fantastic. Phil was only too keen to show us much of the natural beauty of the Lake District and many of its seemingly endless highlights, not to mention some wonderful old country pubs. The boys favourite though seemed to be one of the Arnside establishments where the attractive young barmaid’s assets saw them fight for the task of getting the next round of drinks.

The Lake District has a well deserved reputation for its natural beauty

We even took in a car show held at a fine country house

While we were having a great time with Phil, we were getting a little disheartened with the crew positions search. In the UK the internet site of choice for owners seems to be  Compared to the Australian  site it’s expensive, woeful in design and totally user unfriendly. Very little information is included in the profiles of boat owners or crew and you waste a lot of time trying to contact boats that when you finally find out their personal details and sailing plans turn out to be totally unsuitable. Also, many boat owners say yes, yes, yes to crew positions then suddenly drop contact until, after numerous emails from us, they finally get round to saying ‘Oh our plans have changed now. We don’t need you now.’

Through facebook and via a group email to our friends we’d let everyone know that we were boat-less in the UK and were overwhelmed with invites to visit people all over the place.  The most unexpected email we got though was a quick note from Steve Brown whose boat we’d raced on in the King’s Cup in Thailand last year. He was bringing the boat home and wanted to know if we would be interested in helping him sail it back from Gibraltar to the UK later in the month. Well that was a no brainer. Steve’s a great guy and his 56 foot Oyster is absolutely beautiful. It’s the boat we’ll buy the day after the big  lotto cheque arrives. So we fired off a very quick reply, of course we’d love to sail on Curious again.

Now the story gets a little weird. First we tell Phil of our good fortune. 'Blimey, you lucky codgers, that will be ace. Wish I was going with you.' Next Steve asks us to send our passport details etc so he can book our flights to Gibraltar. So away goes an email with said details along with many thanks for the offer and comments that we’re really looking forward to the trip and our host and former crewmate Phil is green with envy.  A quick reply from Steve lands in the inbox, there’s plenty of room he says, your friend can come too. Send me his passport details and address . Phil can’t believe his luck and we very promptly get the requested information back to Steve.

Then Rob’s phone rings. Steve’s on the phone with a string of questions. ‘This friend of yours, is he a big tall bloke?’ Affirmative. ‘Has he got a beard?’ Yes. ‘Is he a climber?’ Yes as it happens he’s a member of the volunteer mountain rescue here. ‘Ask him if he went on a mountain ice survival course about thirty years ago in Scotland and tried to kill me.’ Rob suddenly had the idea that this may not be going well but asked the question anyway. ‘It can’t be that Steve Brown!’ replied Phil.

It turned out that Steve and Phi had met on the said course and there had been a little incident. One of the skills taught is for climbers roped together to stop themselves sliding down an ice slope by using their ice axes as brakes to arrest their fall. Unbeknown to the other two trainees, Phil had been set up by the instructor to deliberately fall off the trail at some point so the three could practice the technique. Well Phil is the sort of guy that takes a task seriously so while edging their way very carefully across a steep, icy slope Steve was a little surprised to have this huge Billy Connolly look-a-like beside him suddenly scream  ‘Geronimo’ and leap off the ledge they were traversing dragging his two tethered companions with him.

Hearing the story from Phil, all went well, the three climbers used their new found skills and safely slid to a stop. Steve’s version of events described a chaotic slide towards the abyss as all three desperately tried to overcome gravity and stop their descent before smashing onto some fast approaching rocks.  Steve’s relief as he and climber three, bleeding from a badly split chin, finally came to a stop was short lived before the aforementioned Geronimo screamer landed painfully on top of them. Despite the inauspicious meeting they had become good friends with family visits each way etc before losing contact over the years when Steve moved to Wales.

So  a friend we’d met in West Timor during the Sail Indonesia Rally and a friend we met six months later on the other side of the world sailing in the Mediterranean reconnected after twenty plus years purely by chance, with us in the middle. For such a big place, it really is a small world. Now we were all going to go sailing together. Life is good.

One other invite we did quickly accept was from Steven Horribin to visit him in Edinburgh. We had previously had everything  arranged to spend most of 2012 with Steven crossing the Pacific on his yacht Almacantar but unfortunately unforeseen circumstances forced him to postpone the trip at the last minute.  Although we’d never met him, we’d spent so much time via skype and email with him planning the voyage we felt as if we already knew him well.
Edinburgh Castle is a very impressive sight from below.

Karen got past the sentry and is about to storm the castle over trhe draw bridge

So we stuffed a few things into a backpack each and boarded a train for our first trip to Scotland. Steven has a magnificent property right in the centre of Edinburgh and we had a fantastic time seeing the sights of this beautiful city and spending some extremely enjoyable evenings chatting with Steven and his lovely partner Claire late into the night.

We really enjoyed our stay with Steven in his magnificent home. 

Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile certainly provides a dramatic heart for the city. Karen particularly enjoyed our visit to the Scottish National Art Gallery and the chance to see works by so many very famous European masters. The Museum was also very enjoyable with excellent displays of Scottish history both ancient and contemporary. Both extremely good, free entertainment.
Watching genuine tartans being woven certainly had Karen's attention
National Museum of Scotland was well worth the visit

After all an too quick stay we were on the train back to Arnside again because Phil had lined up another treat for us before we all headed off to Gibraltar. In partnership with a friend, Dave, Phil owns a 35 foot yacht and we were  going sailing along the Welsh coast.

Off we went down the motorways to northern Wales. We were in for yet another new experience when we arrived at the Rhyl Yacht Club and found Phil’s boat Shogun sitting high and dry on the mud in the middle of the anchorage. ‘Don’t worry’ he said, ‘It’ll be floating in half an hour.’ The tides here take a bit of getting used to. As promised the water flowed in quickly and, by the time we’d made a quick trip to the supermarket for supplies, the boat was bobbing nicely in a couple of metres of water when we got back. No wonder bilge keelers are popular in this part of the world.
Our first view of Shogun
Phil, Dave and Rob well in control
Karen enjoying the Craic

The wind and sea state was a little wild as we made our way out of the harbour over a shallow bar and into the large bay that was home to a huge wind farm set well of shore supplying nice green electricity to the UK grid. Once over the bar the waves settled down a bit and we had a very enjoyable sail around the shore passing a castle and a number of big stately homes and into a small boat harbour at Ros on Sea. We just cleared bottom getting over the bar at the harbour entrance as by now the tide was well on its way back out. Sure enough, within half an hour we were sitting firmly in the fast drying mud again. No worries about a rolly anchorage here. We then enjoyed a few sun downer drinks, then dinner and drinks, then after dinner drinks and chatted into the early hours of the morning enjoying a few social wines.

Turning in for the night proved to be yet another experience in itself. To say the rear cabin we retired to was compact would be a serious understatement. Karen slithered on her back into her side of the bunk with about three inches clearance from her nose to the ceiling which was in fact the underside of the cockpit floor. She did fit but found there was not enough room to actually roll over. Rob then curled his body and legs up into what remained of the bunk. Good thing we were both so tired and with the tide back in we were very quickly gently rocked to sleep.

The intention was to head further down the coast the next day. It was a good plan but would of probably worked better if we’d not stayed up so late. Dave and Rob eventually arose in the morning but just as they went up on deck to have a look at the state of the world they felt the bilge keel touch the bottom in an ominous signal that we’d slept in too long.. It would of actually helped if we got up before the tide went back out and stopped us getting over the bar. Bugger!

A plaintiff cry for help then arose from the stern cabin. While Karen had been able to slide head first on her back into her coffin like sleeping position, she now found she couldn’t actually get back out. Rob provided the solution by grabbing each ankle and dragging her out feet first with a cherry ‘Good morning sweetheart.’ You have to be tough for this sailing business.

With Shogun firmly embedded in the muddy sand again we quickly came up with plan B – walk ashore, catch the bus down the coast to Conwy, have a look around and some lunch then be back in time for the next high tide. We had planned to spend four days on the boat but gales were now forecast for the following day so we wisely elected to run for home when we could.

Time for Plan B

On the town walls of Conwy

We ended up having a great time walking the ancient walls of Conwy and looking around the historic town before having another nice sail back across the bay. We stayed the night on the boat in harbour and awoke to a dead calm dawn. So much for gales.

Rhyl is much prettier when the tide's in -  a perfect windless dawn.

We unloaded the boat after breakfast and then stopped at a very scenic lookout on the way to drop Dave home. While enjoying the view the wind changed instantly from sub 5 knots to 35+ and building. OK so the met boys do get it right some times. Good thing we came in.
The lookout at Golygfan Gwaenysgor - got to love Welsh names

On the way back to Arnside we also took a very interesting side trip into Liverpool and had a good wander around the excellent maritime museum and the Titanic exhibition they were currently featuring. Very impressive.
With a Captain and crew like this no wonder RMS Titanic got into trouble

We had a few more restful days back at Phil’s before the three of us packed up and caught an early train for Manchester airport for a 12.30pm flight to Gibraltar to board Curious for our voyage along the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coasts, across the infamous Bay of Biscay and back to the UK.

The problem with budget airlines is that sometimes  you get what you pay for. We weren’t paying much and this time we didn’t get much, service that is. When we arrived in the terminal we found a queue over 100 metres long leading to the start of the zigzag  webbing maize that leads to the Monarch check in desks. It was so slow we were worried that we’d be late for our flight despite arriving over two hours in advance. How ever there was no need for concern the staff at the information desk assured us – the flight had been delayed, by eight hours. ‘ Oh and by the way. You won’t actually be flying to Gibraltar because it will be too late for curfew so you’ll be flying to Malaga in Spain and we’ll bus you the rest of the way. It’s only ninety minutes. Sorry for the inconvenience but after you’ve checked in bring your boarding passes back here and we’ll give you a Five Pound meal voucher each.’ Oh joy. How lucky are we.

Five pounds in Manchester airport almost bought us a sandwich each for lunch but when we messaged Steve in Gibraltar with the good news he said he’d have a nice meal ready for us when we got in. We then we sat and watched the departures board as our flight time progressively slipped further and further back. About 10pm when the expected boarding time was readjusted again to 12.30am we were invited over the PA to go to the service desk to receive another meal voucher. Oh more joy. Another five pound each. Only trouble was everything except the bar was closed and ‘Sorry sir, meal vouchers can’t be used to buy alcohol.’  Be assured fifteen quid between us didn’t even buy many potato crisps and snickers bars in the Manchester Airport.

By the time we boarded the plane just after 1.00am we were working up to ravenous and of course they’d done a quick turn-around so there was no food on board. We duly arrived in Malaga and spent another hour and a half getting through customs, baggage collection and waiting 30 minutes for who knows why on the bus before it left. After an agonizingly slow bus trip we arrived at the Spanish-Gibraltar border, made our way through customs on footing dragging our bags, finally found a taxi and arrived at Queensway Marina at 7.30am, absolutely buggered and very malnourished.

Steve was good to his word and although the previous evening’s fish dinner for five had been completely devoured by he and our new crewmate Terry when we didn’t turn up, we were soon scoffing into bacon and egg sandwiches and fresh coffee, just in time before we collapsed from starvation.

Within the hour the ropes were cast off and we were on our way, but not exactly in tip top shape to be starting a 1400 nautical mile voyage.
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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.

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