A Bit AWOL...
This blog entry covers the period between 31st May and 31st July, which was spent living aboard Comino in and around Corfu. I sort of mislaid my writing mojo whilst we were there for reasons I can't quite explain, although sheer bone idleness probably has something to do with it. The problem was the sun shone every day (nice problem to have I hasten to add) and we became more and more chilled as time went on - Greece always has this effect on us, hence we love it so much! The relaxed routine of marina life took on a leisurely pace all of it's own and I'm ashamed to say it was quite an effort to untie our lines and slip out to sea, even just for a day sail.
I'm awarding myself 3/10 - must try harder - for being a bit AWOL blog wise as I now, rather belatedly, start to reminisce about the past couple of months. For the record, back here in The Shire, as of this moment, it's blowing a gale and raining cats and dogs. A typical English summer then!!! No worries, we'll be back on the boat in a few weeks time.
Back Into Boat Life...
When we arrived there was much work to be done on Comino before we could settle back into boat life, but first things first we switched on the fridge and fetched some supplies. Another reason Gouvia Marina works so well for us as a base is the huge AB Supermarket just a short walk away. In a jiffy, apart from some edible fodder, a bottle (OK... two then) of white wine was chilling itself nicely ready for a sundowner or three to welcome us home. It was just like we hadn't been away!!
After a couple of days of contemplation we got stuck in. All-over winter cover off and stowed away. Genoa on, mainsail on. Gelcoat and stainless steel cleaned and polished. New tap and shower in the heads. New anchor roller fitted. Rope clutch repaired. Full engine service... etc. etc. The more challenging work was done by some brilliant guys from WPS Yachting - we'll certainly be using them again as and when needed. After about a week we were ready for a first sail and headed out to test if everything worked as it should.
Having A Nipper Aboard...
It wasn't long before we had some visitors to give us a little shove into action. Our daughter, husband and wee grandson had booked themselves into a nearby apartment with breathtaking views across a lush wooded peninsular to the sea, all the way to Albania.
The time had come to get the nipper aboard for his first ever experience as a sailor, but not before some safety issues had been addressed. I equipped him with a lifejacket and also made him sit and study the basic principles of being out at sea in a boat. A large whisky and a cigar made it an all the more pleasurable learning session - only kidding. It was a chocolate finger really and a mug of milk.
And so, over the next ten days, we did a bit of exploring up the North coast of Corfu, anchoring at Kalami and swimming off the boat. The nipper ventured into the sea a few times, but it must be said he wasn't overly keen to slip into 20 feet of water off the back of Comino. He was OK on the beach, but his favourite stretch of water was the marina pool, where he was quite happy to jump into our arms off the side. When he wasn't swimming, eating or sleeping he liked to pose around the pool...as you do! It was nice to get the happy couple to pose for a pic too as a memento of a wonderful family holiday together. We had some great taverna meals and we even babysat for them one night on their anniversary, so they could go out for dinner on their own - a rare treat.
The Russians Are Coming...
When we were out and about on Comino we saw a rather large Superyacht anchored near to the marina entrance for quite a few days. It was called Universe and a quick check on Google revealed that it had been delivered to a Russian the previous year. One early evening we were back in the marina, sat in the cockpit, when a rather posh tender from the said Superyacht pulled in right beside us, crewed by two very well dressed chaps in typical uniforms bearing the name of the master vessel. As they docked, two heavy looking bruisers stepped off and marched up the pontoon to the swanky restaurant at the end. A few minutes later they returned, presumably having cased the joint, and the tender departed. About an hour later the tender was back. This time two bodyguards, who were standing poised on deck, got onto the pontoon. Coming from the inner lounge cabin a couple of extremely well dressed people quickly stepped onto the pontoon followed by two more rather large bodyguards taking up the rear guard. The group rapidly moved on with the bodyguards forming a kind of close protective circle around the big wigs. A few hours later the same formation came back from the restaurant and the tender was off.
What was striking about the whole thing was that during the coming and going nobody spoke, nobody looked at each other, they all just stared ahead performing what looked like a well rehearsed routine designed to enter and exit as fast as possible. It was all a bit spooky actually. Here are pics I took of the mothership and the ferry boat.
An Unexpected Re-Union
We started our sailing adventure back in 2012, setting off from Portugal. Inevitably, en-route to Greece, we met a number of people in various ports along the way with whom we shared a few drinks or even a few weeks sailing in convoy. We first met Roger and Lynne in Albufiera (Portugal) in 2012 and then again in Gibraltar in 2013. It's fair to say we had some good laughs together, always over a few beers, usually trying to put the worlds to right. Roger, an ex pilot, was particularly amusing and extremely irreverent about most things. But, because everyone is on their own particular journey to somewhere or other, we said cheerio in Gib and we haven't seen them since. Then, out of the blue, we had an e-mail from them at the beginning of July to say they were in the South Ionian, around Kefalonia to be precise. This was about 100 miles south of us. I asked if they were planning to head up to our neck of the woods anytime soon and to our delight they said they were. Arrangements were made and we agree to meet up in Lakka Bay on the island of Paxos.
On 25th July we set off from Gouvia for the six hour sail down to Paxos in glorious and calm conditions. Actually, with little wind, we motored all the way. Arriving in this truly beautiful bay at lunchtime it wasn't long before two familiar faces were seen waving at us amongst the many other boats around. We anchored close by and before long we were onboard Roger and Lynne's boat chatting and laughing as if we'd never been apart for six years. After a very long lunch, lasting till gone 5pm, it was back to Comino for a siesta before setting off again in our dingy to pick Roger and Lynne up for some dinner ashore in the bustling but quaint village of Lakka itself. A late night followed with plenty more laughing and I believe a few more vinos were consumed. A slow start the next morning?....I should say so, but it was our turn to host lunch and again the afternoon was lost to laughter and wine with some decent nosh thrown in for good measure. We said our au revoirs early evening because we intended to set sail at around 9am the next morning and they declared that there was no chance they would be up by then. Our trip back was calm and sunny and we both agreed that the past few days had been brilliant. Here's a few pics of Lakka - somehow, with all the fun and frolics, we hadn't taken a single picture of the four of us together. There will be a next time though. The pics below show how gorgeous Lakka is. Top left is Comino, fenders out as we were all swinging on our anchors. Bottom right is a snap of what it looks like when you are far out at sea in flat calm weather.
The next time actually occurred just a few days later. Roger and Lynne, like us, were going home to the UK for August and they arrived in Gouvia Marina to park up their boat for a month on our last day. So what do you think happened?......Yes, we had our final evening at a local taverna doing what we do best - laughing over a few vinos, but not too many as we had to fly the next day. Did we take that group photo?.....No, we forgot again.
Two months on Comino was amazing, but a short trip home in-between would have been better.
Going home for August is the right thing to do. It was very hot during June and July, so a longer break is very necessary.
We need to do some more adventurous passages down to the South Ionian - to Kefalonia, Ithica, Lefkas and all the other little islands in that area. By making the journey in short day hops we would see many other places of interest on mainland Greece.
Hopefully, we'll see Roger and Lynne again in September, but they are more nomadic than us. Plus, they do more hardcore sailing - crossing Biscay, sailing from Brighton to Greece, nipping off to Turkey, heading up to Croatia - stuff like that.
It's interesting to see how nature completely takes over your garden in just two months. Only serious petrol driven machinery and tools can get it back to normal. Thank goodness we had someone water the pots and containers - how wonderful to come back to so many flowers.
Even something as simple as a new tap, complete with pull out shower attachment, made us feel good. Mind you, a little platter of this n' that made us feel even better.
It's fair to say there are a lot of boats in the Ionian and around Corfu the anchorages are often quite busy. However, there's always a space somewhere whether you have to snuggle up to a large neighbour or a small one!
It was Wednesday 24th April at 09.20 when the licensed bandit (taxi driver) arrived to take us to the train station. After what seemed like an awfully long time at home in the Cotswolds we were FINALLY going back to the boat in Corfu. First, we had to endure a journey all the way to Gatwick as our local airport, Bristol, didn't start their new season schedule for a couple of weeks, but the excitement of heading off for a nine day stay on Comino made it more than bearable. At 23.30 local time (two hours ahead of the UK) we were sat in the cockpit (the boat not the plane) with huge smiles on our faces that wouldn't have looked out of place on a Cheshire Cat! We'd made it.
I have to say, even after seven years of doing this, it's still a very nervous moment when you first step onboard after six months away. I did the usual quick glance all around to make sure everything was still in one piece and peeked into the bilges to check they were bone dry - thankfully all was ship shape and Bristol fashion.....hence the big grin. The inside of the boat was spotlessly clean and dry, exactly as we'd left it last October, so it was easy to just flop into our cabin and crash out after the tiring journey.
The next morning, in glorious sunshine I have to say, the effects of the boat sitting in Greece over winter were more apparent. It seemed that the Sahara Desert in Africa had decided to relocate itself to the Southern Mediterranean, perhaps for a little break away from the searing heat. Anyway, it had dumped red sand on all the boats in the marina, which made everything look filthy - although nothing a hose pipe couldn't deal with very easily. Several boats on our pontoon had already been spring cleaned by their owners, who had now returned for the new sailing season and it was great to say hello and catch up again. Over the coming days more people would arrive making the whole place feel like it was coming back to life from its wintery slumber.
As I mentioned, we were here for just nine days and the purpose of the trip was to slowly start getting the boat ready for our bigger venture throughout the whole summer, when we'll be returning in a few weeks time. Actually, the real reason for this short holiday was to sample the unique delights of the Corfu Greek Orthodox Easter, which took place one week after ours. I'd done a lot of reading up on what is a long list of unfolding events that mark the death of Christ and his miraculous arising. Thousands of people from all over Greece traveled to join what seemed like the entire population of Corfu for this week long festival - combining highly religious, rather sombre, elements with some amazing celebratory events too, still laced with relevant religious symbolism, but nevertheless spectacular to watch. Not being religious types ourselves, we only did the "big ticket" Saturday side of things, which took place in beautiful Corfu Town. Long ago I'd booked a hotel in the centre of town so that we could enjoy the whole day, with a comfortable siesta in the afternoon, then onwards and upwards again with the evening festivities, culminating in a jaw dropping fireworks display at midnight. When it finished we were able to enjoy a couple of late night vinos then off to bed without needing to find a taxi in the wee small hours.
I could bang on about all the different spectacles and goings on, but I think it's easier to show a few pictures that give a flavour of our day, including the rather quieter Sunday morning stroll. Google can do the proper explaining about the meaning of everything if you're that interested.
And so, that was our Easter weekend in Corfu Town - it was a bit of a do I must say. There were a few delicious Greek meals thrown in for good measure and then it was back to Comino for another spell in the marina, generally relaxing and sampling a few more tavernas in the locality. We didn't sail because the engine needs servicing and the sails aren't back on either. The weather turned quite cold one evening and we even turned the heating on in the boat, which hadn't been used for several years, but overall it was shorts, T-shirts and the obligatory flip flops. We're back in the UK now for a couple of weeks and then it's boat life once again for the summer up until autumn. Can't wait!!!
One of the last things I did before leaving Gouvia Marina was to get Comino measured up for an all-over winter cover from a local company that specialises in such handywork. This week it was fitted and the owner sent me a few pics. Very timely as the rainy season has finally arrived and we can rest assured that our precious boat is now snug as a bug in a rug. Return flights are already booked for April 2019 - see you soon(ish).
That was a long winded way of saying, whilst we are in awe of the full-time liveaboards who cut the umbilical cord with conventional land based living here in the UK, it just wouldn't work for us. We've toyed with the idea in the past but our plan for the next few years is all about shuttling between here and there.
Via train, airport shuttle bus, plane and taxi we arrived at Gouvia Marina just before midnight and it was comfortably hot and still bustling with life. Having first hopped onboard to check Comino was OK we quickly changed out of jeans into shorts and headed for a bar overlooking our pontoon. A toast to celebrate our return was in order - a most welcome glass of local vino. That's what I mean about the contrasting lifestyles. We don't tend to stay up that late back home. Thinking about it, perhaps we should!
For the next few weeks we did a bit of sailing, a bit of beach life, a bit of idling round the pool and a bit more exploring the area around us on foot. We also tried a few different eateries, including George's BBQ meat rotisserie (protein extravaganza) in the rather run down part of old, rustic Gouvia Village. Actually, that's not really fair. It's the part that is utterly original and apart from the odd bar or two it's untouched by tourism, so it caters mainly for the locals I think. Basically, George has a whole wall of rotating rods, cogs and gears turning big bits of garlic and herb infused lamb, chicken, pork and beef over a huge bed of searing hot charcoal for hours on end. The end result is nothing short of amazing. We get a mix of succulent tender meats, with crispy outer bits, served up with chips, tzatziki and salad. I rush back to the boat and we sit on deck in the late evening warmth consuming this awesome feast of feasts, washed down with a cold white vino, listening to our finest Ibiza chill-out tunes gently playing in the background. This my friends is what we mean by the term intoxicating. This is a little slice of heaven on earth.
That last paragraph deservers a complete and unreserved apology to all vegetarians.
The sailing part of this latest trip to Corfu was, as ever, a reminder of why we like to potter around on the boat. Being out at sea is so utterly awesome. Here's a few pics to illustrate an average day around and about the coastline of Corfu.
September drifted into October and with that came a few changes in the weather. The temperature dropped to the mid 20's, but every now and then a violent storm loomed over us with a menacing forecast of big time thunder, lightening and rain. A few times we had some truly biblical weather. It was always short lived but my word it was pretty violent when it came. Luckily, the meteorological web sites we use were reasonably accurate and it was easy to know what was about to happen and when - suffice to say we didn't go sailing during these weather bombs. Sadly, on one such day, just sixty miles south of us a hurricane hit a fleet of flotilla boats and four were sunk. Thankfully, nobody was injured (or worse). The two pics below show what the daytime sky looked liked during these stormy periods and how spectacular the sunsets were in the aftermath.
As some kill-joy once said "all good things must come to an end". On 17th October we flew home. The usual work to winterise the boat was done over the proceeding few days - it's a list of jobs as long as your arm. It's funny how we all do exactly the same thing on the day we leave - we all stop and take one last lingering look at our boat from the pontoon before we quietly walk away, in our case for six months. We all reluctantly abandon our second home with a heavy heart. We can't quite come to terms with the fact that our not insignificant asset is being left unattended in a foreign land thousands of miles away. How weird is that?
When we took off from Corfu airport the plane banked steep left and flew right over Gouvia Marina giving us one last, if not unexpected, look at Comino nestling down there in her winter home. Till the next time.
Just to finally round off the subject of the Durrells, we stayed for a couple of days at Kalami, anchored in the bay just off the beach with a view to our left of a place called The White House. This was one of the three actual Durrell residences on Corfu and is now a posh restaurant and guest house, complete with gift shop selling all manner of Durrell related trinkets, and, of course, all the different family members' books.
Whilst we were asleep at night in Kalami, every now and then we'd be woken by a significant swell causing us to roll around in our cabin for a minute or two until the normal calm and tranquility was restored. At about 6 am I poked my head out of the cockpit to marvel at the serene view around me and saw this bloody great big ship passing quite close by. Clearly the wake from these monsters heading for Corfu Town was the cause of our nocturnal disturbances.
On our latest trip into Corfu Town (by taxi I hasten to add) I took the trouble to snap a few images of the wonderful Venetian and French architecture in the old town area. It's a vibrant, bustling, gem of a place with wide boulevards, very upmarket clothes shops and behind the grand buildings you get lost in a network of little narrow cobbled streets selling a mish mash of interesting arts and crafts, cheap clothes and really quite good tourist tat. We loved it - not to mention the traditional tavernas and watering holes. The pics give the overall general impression.
Below shows a typical area behind the scenes in Corfu Town; a pretty little residential enclave. I guess we'd call it a des res mews.
This is the last blog update from Corfu for a short while. Later this evening we fly home for a brief interlude from our Greek adventure but, we'll be back very soon. I gather the garden at home resembles the Gobi Desert after the lengthy heatwave and no doubt the first thing I'll need to do is charge the batteries on the cars, given we'll need to get vital supplies such as wine (or did I mean milk). As per previous stints away from home I'll have to shovel up a mountain of junk mail, amongst which there will inevitably be a few unwelcome bills to pay. Talk about coming down to reality with a bump - I think I'll go to the pool right now for a last dip and pretend it's all business as usual here in sunny Greece!
So, here we are some seven weeks into our Greek Odyssey and I think I can safely speak for both of us when I say we are really loving life in Corfu. After an initial period of being exceptionally lazy, in full holiday mode, we've now ventured out to sea and explored some of the beautiful small bays up in the north east of the island. However, it was not all plain sailing as the beaches tend to slope into deeper water quite quickly here and we found that our 30 metres of anchor chain wasn't quite enough - for the benefit of non-sailers you need to put out three times the length of chain to the depth, as a bare minimum. Personally, I like to use a ratio of four times, so trying to sit in ten metres of water meant we were caught short so to speak. A trip to the local chandlers and several hundred euros later we now have 50 metres, plus another 20 metres of rope. On one occasion, before we got the extra chain, I anchored in 5 metres, reversed back and ended up with the stern of the boat practically parked on a sun lounger on the beach, much to the annoyance of a greek gentleman who started shouting at us. I'm guessing it was a tirade of abuse and expletives as opposed to "hello and welcome you gallant English sailor" Anyway, I up-anchored and moved on with a thumbs up and thankfully he smiled back. It was a close call but I think I've restored friendly Anglo Greek relations once again!
In the past, I've often waxed lyrical about how wonderful giant Mediterranean prawns are. Indeed, I'm still very partial to a plateful now and then, but my current preference is Calamari - grilled, fried or baked. We've now frequented quite a number of Tavernas (slight understatement) and naturally I compare one dish of Calamari to another, which obviously has a strong bearing on repeat visits. At the moment the rather unassuming little shack on our local beach is winning hands down. The picture above of their delicious offering speaks for itself - "squid heaven with a twist of lemon" I call it!
The middle picture tells a different story. Our great friends from Malta, Jane and Nathalie, have been staying in a villa nearby for the past week and when they first arrived, very early in the morning, I considered doing a bacon and egg fry up on the boat to welcome them to Greece. Then I remembered, this was Jane and Nathalie on holiday we're talking about and the party would have started at Malta airport before they even took off. Suffice to say I came to my senses and bought the ingredients for a stiff Bloody Mary breakfast instead and I must say it was very well received by the gals. I had one (two actually) myself and I certainly understand the attraction!
The picture on the right is very special. Jane, bless her, brought over as her hand luggage an electric gridler, knowing that our last one packed in. It allows us to have BBQ style food on the boat, which we absolutely love. The recent tragic deaths in Greece caused by wildfires emphasises why there is a blanket ban on charcoal or gas BBQ's on beaches, or anywhere else on land for that matter - and quite rightly so - but now we can do the next best thing - thank you Jane.
Taking advantage of Jane and Nathalie's hire car, we all ventured off to the rugged west side of Corfu to a scenic little bay called Paleokastritsa. The journey took us through beautiful wooded mountains and when we got there the view across the coastline was nothing short of spectacular. From here we took a boat ride to a secluded beach, only accessible from the sea, called Paradise Beach. OMG - talk about clear blue water - you can see why it's named what it is! The pics above were taken as we arrived for a day of swimming and chilling - not to mention a sumptuous picnic, complete with chilled white wine from the well stocked cool-box.
Just a few snaps of our relaxing day - the one in the middle shows the interesting rock formations created by layers of sediment laid down millions of years ago. If only that person hadn't walked past as I was lining up the shot you would have a clearer view!
Paleokastritsa bay as seen from the top of the steps leading down to the beach. Easy going down - somewhat exhausting coming back up in the heat, but thankfully the cool box was somewhat lighter by now.
This pic was taken on the evening of 26th July, as we were sharing a farewell fish supper with Jane and Nathalie at a gorgeous waterside Taverna. This cloud formation bubbled up in-front of us as it was getting dark and I promise you I've not tinkered with the shot in any way. This is exactly how it was - pretty dramatic don't you think!
It's now just the two of us again and we shall set sail once more over the coming week to do some more exploring, primarily along the east coast. I haven't mentioned yet that we had a day and evening in Corfu Town, which was really interesting given its Venetian history and architecture. We're going back tomorrow and I'll take lots of pics ready for a blog all about the hustle and bustle of this busy, but beautiful place.
This might sound a little strange but we haven't been sailing yet after three weeks in Gouvia. The fact is we both sat down and agreed that to begin with we really needed a holiday in the traditional sense - lounging around the pool, reading, walking, exploring the local area and visiting lots of tavernas. And so, that's what we've been doing - recharging our batteries and generally unwinding. There's weeks, months and years to sail again - indeed we will venture out next week for sure. But these past few weeks have been heaven and the pair of us are now well and truly chilled, and rather tanned.
Part of the attraction here is the superb pool that is about 300 yards from the boat. The restaurant serves really good food (and the local wine is very drinkable) which means we get dragged here like a magnet most days. Plus, being hot, hot, hot everyday makes regular dips quite compelling.
Gouvia Marina is surrounded by rolling hills covered in beautiful greenery and lush vegetation. Just around the corner is the Durrells house, as used in the popular TV series. It's gardens look amazing, although this is as close as you can get. Apparently they resume filming here later in the year for the fourth series. From our pontoon we also look up to the mountains of Albania just a few miles away - you can venture over there these days but most people here feel it's not very advisable.
Perhaps the most unexpected thing about the marina is the cricket pitch and the croquet lawns. Matches of both pastimes take place every other day and I must say it always looks a little bit odd to see what would normally be quintessentially English summer activities occurring in the searing heat of Greece! Water must be plentiful here as they use rather a lot of it to keep the grass green.
I mentioned that we've been doing the rounds of the local Tavernas and one in particular (Harry's Taverna established in 1929) has become our favourite. At weekends really talented musicians play traditional music to a packed audience - booking a table is essential. But it's not all eating out don't you know. I've been cooking some rather delicious meals - even if I say so myself. And to add a little local flavour I have acquired some dried Oregano from a farm shop that smells (and tastes) utterly divine. The Oregano not the shop! I've also started a small garden on the decks of Comino to grow our own fresh herbs. As you can see our Basil plant is looking very healthy indeed - and he tastes pretty damn good too.
To make it even more difficult to slip our lines and venture back out to sea we've just discovered another even more luscious pool just a few minutes walk from the marina. Set in beautiful gardens, manicured to perfection, this quiet little oasis is the epitome of calmness. We were welcomed with open arms by the owners, who's only stipulation is that you use their bar and little restaurant - absolutely no hardship there then!!!
You can imagine our utter surprise when we looked across to the pontoon opposite us and saw the very same boat we sailed as part of our flotilla holiday in 2003. She's obviously been sold on now but Katernia is still going strong and must at least 25 years old. How funny is that!
Finally...we've made it to Greece. It's only taken six years but hey....there was no hurry! All that matters is that we are now sitting in Gouvia Marina in Corfu feeling slightly elated that a dream we dared to dream two decades ago has actually become a reality. We were last here on a flotilla holiday in 2003 with our young kids and we were so besotted with the whole "sailing in Greece" experience that we wondered if it might be possible one day we could come back in a boat of our own. In 2007 we got the boat and in 2011 it was delivered to Portugal, where we spent a year buzzing back and forth for holidays and short breaks sailing around the Algarve. On 1st July 2012 we set sail from Lagos, having given up work for good, and the rest of our fantastic journey is documented in this blog - see the Our Route page for a quick summary.
Our plan this year was to depart Malta and slowly hop our way up the east coast of Sicily, then day sail from one port to another along the southern coast of Italy, eventually crossing the 60 miles or so from the heel of Italy to Corfu. If we really liked somewhere along the way we might stay for a few days, even a week. However, the small matter of our Grandchild's first birthday, and a big party to celebrate, meant that we would need to be back in the UK in August. Therefore, we decided it was better to make a quick dash from Malta to Corfu and have a good eight weeks or so in the place we really wanted to be. Because the route involves two 26 hour stints, including overnight sailing, we felt it was better for me to make the journey with my great Maltese friend Alfred and Nicki would fly in once we arrived.
And so, on 10th June at 05:00, Alfred and I departed Malta heading for Syracuse in Sicily, some 14 hours away. The sail was uneventful and we had a fantastic meal in his favourite restaurant tucked away in the backstreets of the old town. What a truly magnificent place Syracuse is - absolutely beautiful. Without doubt Nicki and I will visit for a short break at some point.
On 11th June we set off on the 26 hour journey to Crotone and again it was a really pleasant sail, including the overnight part ghosting along the coast of southern Italy in pitch black. The highlights were the masses of dolphins that joined us on numerous occasions. They rode our bow wave leaping and pirouetting in what looked like a joyous game to them.
After a relaxing evening in Crotone, enjoying a few vinos and a rather splendid fish supper, we got some much needed sleep before departing at first light for the next 26 hour voyage to our final destination. It was calm and peaceful as we headed out into the blue yonder - but not for long. An hour later we were hit by a wind storm that kicked up the sea into a angry swirl; large waves battering us on our port beam. Every now and then a breaking wave would pour over the boat as we sailed at 7 knots with just a quarter of the genoa sail out to give us some stability and forward drive. Alfred and I hunkered down under the sprayhood holding on tight as we were tossed around like a cork. We endured six hours of this beating before the force 6/7 winds calmed down to a more manageable force 4. The sea slowly became lumpy rather than rough and we started to relax knowing that the worst was over. My overriding thought was...thank goodness Nicki didn't experience this...she'd never set foot on a boat again! As for Comino, what can I say. She felt rock solid throughout and despite being thrown onto her side on occasions, she came back up with remarkable speed and weathered the storm impeccably. She is a strong and capable boat for sure.
The day passed and night fell as we closed in on Greece. We had some tricky navigation weaving our way through the small rocky islands of Othoni and Mathraki in the darkness just off the north west tip of Corfu. Then we sailed right across the north coast of Corfu careful to avoid numerous marker buoys and the odd fish farm. At first light we rounded the north east tip of Corfu and headed down the east cost to Gouvia Marina.
I called the marina on VHF Ch 69 and after passing through the two sets of port and starboard markers at the shallow entrance we were met by a young woman marinero in a rib who directed us to our berth on J pontoon. At 07:30 we were tied up and shaking hands - we'd made it. Thanks Alfred for being a brilliant sailing companion.
For a couple of days we tidied up the boat and did some essential maintenance before Alfred flew back to Malta on 16th June, leaving me to explore the area before Nicki arrived on 18th June.
And here we are, 5 days into our adventure together in Greece. We haven't sailed yet as the weather has been a little stormy, but my word are we loving life over here. We've sampled Calamari and Gyros and tonight we're booked into a village Taverna for a meal with Greek music and dancing. The marina has a magnificent pool, which we've frequented every day, plus restaurants, bars and a few shops. Soon we'll venture out with Comino and start exploring the many bays and anchorages around Corfu, Paxos, Anti-Paxos and the Greek mainland just a couple of hours away. It's hard to believe we're finally here - a well used cliche I know but it does feel like we're living the dream.
Before heading back to Malta and the boat a significant birthday (mine) came and went - not without a little merriment of course. The cake, courtesy of my daughter, was tres amusing and kinda summed up how we like to roll when we're away in the Med. But as our minds focussed on getting back into life aboard after a year's break the Beast From The East attacked us big time and in our neck of the woods we were trapped in the village for a few days until a nice farmer with a snow plough carved a groove wide enough to escape. Just in time too - our vino stock was getting perilously low!
And so the day finally came to head off. We arrived in Malta on 5th April ready for a week of hard graft preparing the boat for re-launch on 11th April. Much work had already been done in the preceding months including all mechanicals fully serviced, new batteries, new pumps, gelcoats chips repaired, new loads of other bits and pieces (too many to mention), 5 coats of gelshield below the water line, antifouled, polished and cherished to the point of looking like brand new again. Comino is in mighty fine order, glad to be back afloat and rearing to go!
What's next you ask - well...we're finally heading for Greece at long last. More of how we're planning to get there in a minute. Our first priority was to catch up with all our very dear Maltese friends who have been just amazing to be with over the past few years. It was an excuse for more party, party party both on dry land and on our boats. The highlight was a trip to the Island of Comino with Jane aboard, which is, of course, a very special place for us (see About Us pages for the story). Rafted alongside Ray's new 46 footer our whole gang did what we do best - eat, drink and laugh till it hurts.
It wasn't all fun and frolics - with Valletta being the 2018 European Capital of Culture a visit to the much refurbished city was a must and one evening a few of us met up for a good look around. WOW!!! - that's all I can say. In fact, I'll say it again - WOW!!! Valletta has always been a piece of medieval splendour carefully protected against any kind of modern development. But the truth is it was dying as people left in their droves for more modern homes elsewhere on the island. The major tourist attractions were broadly kept in a good state of repair but behind the facades it was a city crumbling away. The result was a sad and eerie place largely deserted and the decay was really depressing to see. Not any more - Oh good lord no. Heaven knows how much money (mostly EU funding) has been spent bringing Valletta back to life and in my opinion every penny has been well spent. This is now a magic place, fully restored, full of architectural magnificence, stunning forts and palaces and wonderful ancient housing all packed into less than a square mile. Hats off to the movers and shakers behind this awesome renovation project - it is truly one of the most stunning places to visit. What's more, an abundance of uber cool bars, restaurants, cafes and shops have all come alive and this has brought back thousands of tourists and locals creating a buzzing, vibrant atmosphere.
So......where are we at right now. Back at home in the UK for a short while before I head back to Malta to set off for Greece with my great pal Alfred joining me for the four day voyage via Sicily, Southern Italy and then across to Corfu. He'll then fly home and I'll have a couple of days to get everything ship shape before Nicki flies in for the start of our very own Greek Odyssey! We have a 12 month berth booked at Gouvia Marina, giving us an ideal base from which we can meander around the Ionian Islands at our leisure. Are we excited......I should say so. We last sailed in Greece as part of a flotilla fourteen years ago and we promised ourselves we would return one day in our own boat. It feels like a dream is about to come true.
And so the end of 2017 is nearly upon us. A year in which we didn't sail like we used to (apart from on friends boats and partying would be more to the point than actual sailing) but a trip to Malta in September for three weeks was a great tonic - with a few Gins thrown in for good measure. And boy are their measures BIG over there! Between the parties, including a surprise wedding anniversary bash on a dear friends magnificent rooftop terrace, we instructed some work to be done on Comino whilst she's taking a well earned rest on the hard in Manoel Island Boatyard. The hull has been stripped of the old antifoul and an inspection has revealed a perfectly dry bottom, free of any signs of Osmosis. Gelcoat repairs to a few dings will happen over the next few weeks, together with a thorough engine service. I shall be mostly buying extra lottery tickets for the next few months to pay for all of this.
We'll head over to Malta in February to complete the work necessary to get the boat in tip top, like brand new, condition ready for our booked re-launch on 10th April. That sounds like another excuse for another party don't you think? The plan is to have some fun sailing around the area until the weather settles and then we'll start our journey to Greece. We've decided to take a slow route via Sicily and Southern Italy, eventually rocking up at Gouvia Marina in Corfu. Don't quite know when we'll get there - it depends on how long we stay at places we like along the way - and we're definitely not in a hurry. I'm guessing that we'll need to sample the many varieties of Italian wine we'll encounter en-route, not to mention a few regional pasta dishes and maybe the odd Saltimbocca alla Romano or Polpettine di Agnello. We shall call this venture the great Gino D'Acampo experience. If we sailed every day, I've calculated that it would take us 15 days based on gentle daytime passages. Judging by my appetite for fine Italian food, I'm thinking we might arrive in 2020 if we're lucky. This blog will, of course, detail the journey and document the fun and frolics we have along the way, including, as ever, the culinary delights we get to sample. In the meantime, here's a few pics of 2017 that sort of tell the story.
A quick re-cap - for the past five years we've been on the most amazing annual sailing expeditions in sunny climes, a journey that's taken us from Portugal to Malta, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, via Gibraltar. Sometimes it's been as much as 9 months living on the boat, but last year, for a number of reasons, it was only two. That was still a wonderful experience gently poodling around Malta, Gozo and the island after which the boat is named, Comino.
Winters have always been spent back in the UK and this past one was no exception.
Our 2017 plan was to re-join Comino in July in Malta, where she's currently bobbing around in Msida Marina. I'm doing some exciting contract work until then, hence the slight delay in heading off. And then it was our intention to set sail for Greece - our ultimate destination. We had in mind a three year adventure, getting lost amongst the islands we love so much, allowing us to slowly but surely take stock of what to do when we've got sailing around Greece out of our system - assuming that happens of course. Winters back in the UK were still in the plan, but it would be more like 9 months away again, living like sea gipsies for most of the year, albeit with frequent hops back to see friends and family.
But sometimes life takes a left turn and the best made plans need to be flexed. We've recently had some wonderful news - we're going to be first time grandparents and the baby is due at the end of July. Naturally, we want to be around for a while before and after the arrival, although just for the record my nappy changing days are well and truly behind me. This all means we've had to make the big decision to take a year off sailing.
I'll be flying out to Malta soon to supervise the lifting of Comino into Manoel Island Boatyard where she'll be mothballed on the hard until next April. Then we'll pick up where we left off and head for the Ionian at last. So, our plan is still the plan, just postponed for a short period.
As a sort of antidote to the prospect of no life "on" the ocean for a while we decided to spend some time "by it" instead. Part of the rationale for acquiring a (real) Landrover was to take off on a series of adventurous land based Safaris whilst we're back home. The travel bug never really goes away, even when we're on dry land. The Cotswolds have already been done and therefore last week it was Cornwall's turn.
When I say Safari, I mean Safari. OK we stayed in some pretty spectacular boarding establishments (Chic Boutique B&B, authentic 16th Century Smugglers Inn and a rather posh Manor House) but our days were spent navigating the notoriously narrow lanes that meander their way from one beauty spot to another. Sometimes these so called roads do actually turn into dirt tracks, which meant the Landy came into its own. Being high up in a vehicle was also a godsend as we could see the spectacular scenery above the tops of the hedgerows.
So, without going into too much detail, here's a brief summary of our adventure down in the depths of Cornwall. This is a list of where we visited in chronological order.
St Ives - trying very hard to be a bo ho art centre and a stylish gem of a place for monied people with the deep pockets required to buy a second home here. Sorry, but I have to tell you all, the bucket and spade brigade will be coming in August regardless. Quaint holiday lets in abundance, stunning beaches and a mecca for surfers.
Cape Cornwall - real rough and rugged Cornwall coastline at its best. Watching the big waves crashing onto the rocks with an explosion of white surf was extremely hypnotic.
Lands End - got to be done and this box has now been ticked. Probably not such an inspiring experience during the crowded peak season - best visited in March when very few people are around. We were looking out at New York - only it was 3,147 miles away. I wanted to tell someone you could see it on a clear day - but I didn't.
Newlyn - a trawler fishing town through and through - not a tourist trap but nevertheless very interesting for us boaty mcboaty people. Bowed my head in honour at the Penlee lifeboat disaster memorial headstone - respect - humbled.
Mousehole - nice picture - but not a postcard.
Penzance - a bit lacking in Cornish charm - or any charm for that matter. A functional town providing goods and services for the more remote and picturesque places around it - was disappointed not to see any pirates though.
St Michaels Mount - one must walk across the cobbled causeway at low tide to marvel at the ancient buildings on the mount up close - very impressive. We noticed a sign that said the incoming tide would start covering the causeway at 13:15 - it was now 13:30. OMG...we ran for our lives, but we still got wet feet - some stragglers were up to their knees and in a total panic - sorry...we did laugh. It was funny though.
Portleven - typical pretty little Cornish harbour and largely unspoilt. Noticed a Rick Stein restaurant doing a roaring trade, so presumably one day it will be re-named Portstein.
Carbis Bay - a posh little bay - exquisite sand and very picturesque. Dominated by a huge Spa Hotel and some huge cliff hanging houses and a huge beach restaurant and some huge beach holiday lodges being built. All the aforementioned are owned by one man. Me thinks he has money, with plenty more on its way.
Porthtowan - another great beach, another little enclave of holiday lets nestling amongst the local residents. One asks oneself two things - what would you actually do during the winter months if you lived there and how would you cope with the thousands of tourists during the summer months blocking every lane and filling every eatery.
St Agnes - if you did want to disappear into Cornish oblivion, this is an extremely attractive place to see out your days. Situated at the end of a picturesque valley, fab beach, a charming small town with some trendy shops, desirable properties and something of a community feel about it. But again, what would it be like when it's mobbed by tourists?
Perranporth - a rather uninspiring little town with an enormous beach. In all my life I have never seen so many people with so many demented dogs charging around on the sand - I'm not kidding, there were literally hundreds of them. This is a place for retired people who probably have a rather repetitive lifestyle.....get up, take the dog to the beach, go home for some food, go to bed and then do the same thing again the next day. Harsh but fair I think.
Newquay - had my first holiday without parents here...I think I was 16. Me and my mate partied hard in the infamous Sailors Arms every night for a week - our first big night club experience. This visit was therefore a bit of a trip down memory lane, but sadly the place has sprawled into a huge urban eyesore. We couldn't get off the one way system to visit the harbour or find a route down to the surf beach. We kept driving around for a while and then just carried on out of town without even stopping or getting out of the Landy. Shame...but my happy memories are still intact.
Mevagissey - it doesn't really get any better than this in terms of quintessential quaint fishing harbour with gorgeous little cottages all around, plus some rather nice restaurants on the quayside. We bought some fresh crab (see pic below) and ate it in the car with a small beer overlooking the boats in the harbour. Great memories are made of stuff like this.
Goran Haven - I last set foot on this idyllic little beach and concrete quay 46 years ago. Absolutely nothing has changed - the small village and the waterfront area are exactly as I remember it. There was nothing to do then and there's nothing to do now. A place frozen in time and only suitable for people who want to get away from everyone and everything. Having said that, I'm sure it's heaving in the summer months.
Looe - a place with a character all of its own. It's got the same ingredients you tend to find in most Cornish fishing towns, but without any attempt to be twee. Let's just call it a working harbour with a decent beach, plenty of shops and a whole variety of good eating establishments. We tried the Indian (you can't go without curry for too long can you) and it was fantastic. So much so, we went there two nights in a row. Maybe that's the secret - Cornwall and Curry - a hedonistic mix of very different cultures. We liked Looe.
Polperro - the stuff of chocolate box photos and dreamy pictures on tins of Cornish fudge. This, ladies and gentlemen, is charming Cornwall at its best - end of. You wouldn't want to live there (the old tourist trap thing again), but you sure should visit at least once in your lifetime. Hats off to whoever is in charge of this place because it hasn't been spoilt by modern development in any way.
Polruan - this is where you come to look across the River Fowey estuary to the rather magnificent town of Fowey on the other side. It allows you to admire all the buildings in one single view - and boy is it a view. You need to win the lottery to live over there, but if you did, you would. We didn't visit Fowey, but what we saw from a distance we liked very much.
And finally, crossing over into Devon, our Safari took us right across the wilds of Dartmoor via a network of tiny lanes, at one point bumping into the Victorian monstrosity that is Dartmoor Prison. OMG... what an evil looking bleak and scary place. The fact that is was slightly misty made it even more spooky. Just seeing it is enough to keep you on the straight and narrow. The rest of Dartmoor is breathtakingly untouched and spectacularly remote - but mind the sheep and cattle - they seem to believe they have right of way!
The Landy On Safari - The Perfect Vehicle For The Job
It's a bright sunny day and the view is pretty terrific. No...we haven't dropped the hook in a picturesque bay somewhere around Malta...we've actually come home to the Cotswolds. This last blog of the 2016 sailing season is being written from high up in the hills inside the comfort of my office (man cave) with a pile of admin stuff on one side, a few bills to settle on the other and a waste paper bin overflowing with two months worth of junk mail. It's a good job we didn't do our normal six month stint on the boat otherwise we wouldn't have been able to push open the front door!
I blame the education system for our slightly earlier departure from Malta than planned. You see those clever clogs at the cattle transport company (Ryanair) know only too well that many people will take to the skies for the forthcoming school half-term holidays. And why not, the sun is still shining in most parts of the Mediterranean, meaning thousands of eager tourists are going to pack some shorts and sandals (hopefully not socks) and hop on an aircraft bound for the beach.
And so what do Ryanair do......yes you've guessed it......they hike up their prices to astronomical levels knowing that those with enough motivation and money will pay silly prices to get away. In our case we simply couldn't entertain the prospect of forking out the equivalent of the GDP of Guatamala just to stay on for a couple of extra weeks. Departing last Saturday whilst fares were still reasonable saved us a small fortune and to make matters even better we managed to come home with just hand luggage for the first time in five years. Her indoors wasn't happy at first, but I managed to persuade her that she was unlikely to wear 15 sarongs and 22 summer tops during the arctic like winter we usually experience up in the Cotswolds.
The week before our return was a tad hectic cleaning the boat down below, polishing the gelcoat, removing the sails and generally doing all the other necessary things required for the many months Comino will be sat in the marina, hopefully safe and secure despite what the winter storms throw at her. Walking away on that last day is always a slightly apprehensive moment, but luckily our good friend Alfred has his boat on the same pontoon and he'll be keeping an eye out almost every day.
Bless em....our friends hastily organised a (large) number of farewell parties and dinners to make sure all of our gang got to say good bye, which means we'll be eating lettuce leaves for much of October - or until we can get back to our normal belt notches.
Nicki will be returning to her school work for a few hours a week and I've been asked to do a contract for the Royal International Air Tattoo that takes me up to next July. I start in a few weeks time, which allows just about enough time to sort the garden out after two months of total neglect. James (our son) said he preferred the wild meadow look whilst we were away - a rather lame excuse for not deploying the lawn mower.
And that's where I shall take myself right now. Into the jungle, into the fresh country air, into a slightly different lifestyle to the one we've just had. We're both filled with so many happy memories of the summer of 2016 aboard Comino and before you know it we'll be back on the ocean waves again.
Here's a few reminders of the last couple of months.
This blog is just like waiting for a London bus. Nothing happens for ages and then two come along one after the other.
Out and about part two relates to our little venture last week when we decided to circumnavigate the small island of Gozo, just to the north of Malta. Please don't think this was a particularly gruelling sailing experience full of risk or daring bravado. Driving around a Tesco car park is more likely to result in a scarier incident than this, but it was on our bucket list and we decided it was time to tick the box.
As I mentioned in the last blog entry we emptied the entire stock of the San Gwan Lidl before setting off just in case we got marooned on a remote beach somewhere having been sunk by a vindictive whale. In fact, it would be safe to say we could have survived for a whole year given the amount of food we were carrying. In the event no such angry whale materialised and we're still chomping our way through the contents of the larder locker even now.
Straight after returning the hire car on Tuesday we slipped our lines at midday and cruised for three hours up to the quite simply gorgeous Santa Maria Bay on the island of Comino. We arrived, we ate, we swam and we slept - but not not necessarily in that order.
Anchoring overnight here is nothing short of spectacular - the crystal clear water, the rocky surroundings and the sun sets and sun rises are to die for.
And so the moment of truth came early on Wednesday morning as we motored the short distance over to Gozo. The clockwise circumnavigation began in earnest as we left all signs of civilisation behind us and entered the great unknown. Monumental cliffs towered hundreds of feet above us and the water depth plummeted to over a thousand feet. It was eerily quiet apart from the gentle throbbing of our engine. We were all alone; us against the elements; I felt like the nautical equivalent of Lawrence of Arabia charging out across a desolate seascape unsure what dangers lay ahead.
Nicki has just read this last paragraph and told me not to write such exaggerated bull***t, particularly as it was a calm sunny day and we were never out of sight of another boat on the entire journey. Sure the sea was deep and the cliffs were amazing, but the shore wasn't more than a hundred yards away at any time. I'll continue with less creative flourish if I may.
It took all of four hours to get around Gozo, including poking our nose into all the big ticket areas of interest along the way. We ended up back in Santa Maria by mid afternoon just in time for a siesta, followed by an moonlight dinner on deck and a slightly rocky night's sleep as some unexpected swell rolled into the bay. It meant the next day was largely about dozing and swimming. In other words doing what we do best - not very much at all.
The evening journey back to Msida Marina gave us something we hadn't had for quite a while - a cracking sail with 15 knots of wind, not on the nose for a change. Comino likes to get her canvas out to show us what she can do. Nicki fished all the way back in anticipation of a fish pie supper. Not even a nibble, much to her disappointment. But tomorrow (Sunday) we're going out on a friends boat specifically to catch fish, so next time I write maybe it will be all about the big one that didn't get away.
There hasn't been any news posted on this blog for a while, not because of laziness I promise. The reason is we've been out and about lately doing a few different things. Let's start with the car hire expedition.
We both woke up one morning feeling that we needed a break from the boat. After all, we had been living on Comino for just over a month and there were early signs of a nasty dose of cabin fever creeping in. The initial symptoms are quite concerning...talking utter gibberish (Nicki)...staring into space and mumbling to yourself (me). Yes...it was definitely time to spend some time on dry land.
A quick phone call and half an hour later I was stood at the end of the pontoon waiting to be picked up by the car hire company we use from time to time. Half an hour later from then I was back at the marina with our new set of wheels ready to start a four day expedition exploring the wilds of Malta. Actually, we were about to become full on tourists just for a short while.
The vehicle in question was a Suzuki Alto. This is not a car blessed with good looks or anything under the bonnet that would remotely excite you in any gear. Indeed, it hasn't so much been engineered but rather assembled in the way you would put together a novelty toy you get free in a cereal box. This is a mixture of thin steel and even thinner plastic plonked on top of a hairdryer motor. And, to add insult to injury, the car loaned to us was vomit green.
Off we went feeling excited that we were free at last. Our wonderful puke coloured shoe box was going to take us on a fascinating road trip around the island - albeit at a top speed approaching 30mph. I'm only kidding - we got it up to 40mph at one point.
We headed south and after navigating a few roads with potholes the size of tin mines we ended up in an amazing little fishing hamlet with a giant rock pool to swim in called Ghar Lapsi. We hadn't visited this place for 40 years and it hadn't changed a bit - unlike some parts of Malta that have become a perpetual building site.
Next we went to our favorite little hideaway on top of the spectacular Dingli cliffs overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea. It's a restaurant called Bobbyland and I consumed a plateful of the best octopus spaghetti you can get anywhere in the world. Well, that's in my opinion anyway.
Given that we were at the southern end of Malta, it seemed entirely logical (not) that our next stop should be the northern most tip of the island. And so we meandered our way from one end to the other eventually arriving an hour and a half later at another beauty spot called Paradise Bay. We sat with a glass (or two) of wine watching the sun go down from a terrace over the beach feeling very mellow and very privileged.
The next day was to be a beach day. We hadn't done this for a while and it seemed like a nice way to relax in the sun and do some swimming, not to mention people watching. Our trusty Suzuki Alto sped us (slight exaggeration) to Golden Bay, where, surprise surprise, as the name would suggest, there is a sandy beach. I think the best way to describe the day would be five hours of horizontal vegetating with occasional dips in the briny. Mind you, our tans got topped up nicely - I'm the colour of an oak sideboard now. Nicki said I'm about as interesting too. Cabin fever not quite cured yet I think!
Day three was Sunday. Despite it being one of the most touristy thing ever, a visit to the Marsaxlokk market was a must. And so with thousands of other sheep we herded our way around this little fishing town, looking at fish stalls and tat stalls until it was time. Time that is for a bit of lunch at one of the dozens of fish restaurants that pour onto the streets by the harbour side. There was method in our madness. Sunday is the big thing in Marsaxlokk and the locally caught fresh fish is a real attraction. In our case we came for something slightly different - the fried calamari. Off the scale fantastic would just about sum it up. After lunch we headed for Marsascala, another much quieter fishing village and then onto Valletta for some culture and a coffee.
The last day with the car was spent back at Golden Bay for another chill out session. Probably the last beach visit we would have on this Malta trip. It was all pretty routine apart from the Italian goddess who took her bikini top off, only to be ticked off by the beach supervisor. It's still not allowed here, being such a strong Catholic country, which is all a bit rich when you think what the clergy get up to. So, apart from an all too brief glimpse of a semi-naked stunner, the day was calm and peaceful.
Tuesday morning, before the car was to be returned, was spent shopping for vast quantities of supplies for our next little adventure on the boat - the long awaited three day circumnavigation of the island of Gozo. Watch this space.
There we were sat in the cockpit yesterday chatting away when all of a sudden the heavens opened and a torrential downpour sent us scuttling into the saloon like a couple of ferrets diving down a rabbit hole. Obviously all the hatches were open so it wasn't much dryer in there until we rapidly closed everything up. Then last night we had a proper full on storm with more really heavy rain, thunder and spectacular lightening, plus strong gusty winds that caused the boat to rock and roll a bit. It was the first storm of the summer and it's a good job we were safely tucked up in the marina and not sat in an exposed bay somewhere around the island. That would have been very uncomfortable, if not a tad frightening.
Today the air is clear and a little fresher than usual. The forecast is for more stormy weather but everything should clear up nicely by the weekend when we'll contemplate doing a bit more sailing. For now though we'll stay put, settle down with a good book, listen to some music and think about a bit of swordfish for supper. Let's call it chill out Friday.
We've been out and about aboard Comino lately anchoring in beautiful bays and generally chilling in the sunshine. Nothing wrong with that. No reason to feel guilty. After all that's why we came.
Then our daughter and her hubby arrived for a weeks holiday on the boat and apart from a bit of beach life they were keen to spend a couple of days around the tiny island of Comino which is, of course, our boats natural home.
We stocked up with enough food to keep us going for a month and then set sail last Friday to beat the weekend rush. That's a laugh and a half as I'll explain in a minute. Our destination was the infamous Blue Lagoon. This is a place where the water is beyond clear - it's like mineral water that's been triple distilled to become even more pure. If you google it the bay can be seen from outer space it's so bright. Yep....as beauty spots go it doesn't come much better. But, and it's a very big but, there is a downside that has to be taken into consideration when you visit. Be warned...you will not be alone!
Unsurprisingly, The Blue Lagoon is the biggest tourist attraction in Malta and pretty well everybody puts a boat trip there at the top of their "must see" agenda when they come here. And, needless to say, there's no shortage of entrepreneurial tripper boat skippers eager to transport the masses to this little piece of paradise at a price. They come from every direction, every hour, every day and in all shapes and sizes (the boats that is). What makes it even more crazy are the hundreds of Maltese boats that come and anchor in the lagoon as well. On top of this there are speed boat rides, ringo rides, paragliding rides, extreme boat rides and jet ski rides. All in all there's only one word to describe an average day in The Blue Lagoon......MAYHEM!
But, it is what it is and quite frankly if you're looking for peace and tranquility don't go there. That's my philosophy.
Actually, there is a time when it becomes the calmest, most beautiful place you can ever imagine, but you have to wait. It's not when the sun goes down and the hoards of tripper boats scoop up their hundreds of passengers and depart. Nor is it when the maltese boats head for home leaving just a small handful of yachts intending to anchor for the night. It's certainly not when darkness falls as this is when several disco boats arrive full of alcohol fuelled youngsters determined to party hard and loud, blasting out music at around a thousand decibels until midnight. The time when the lagoon becomes completely calm and utterly amazing is at dawn. Watching the sun rise above the jagged cliffs and illuminating the water just like a powerful light has been switched on under the sea is truly mesmerising. There's nobody else in the lagoon to spoil the atmosphere and you feel totally alone as you watch this stunning phenomenon of nature. This is the brief moment that makes it all worth while. This is an experience to be savoured. I love it and it warms my soul.
Sadly, the moment is very brief and before long the first tripper boat arrives with yet another cargo of tourists ready to disturb the peace and quiet. Hey ho.....like I said......it is what it is.
We bobbed up and down in the lagoon all day Saturday watching with amusement as the chaos unfolded all around us until late afternoon when we unfurled the genoa and motor sailed back to our base at Msida Marina - a gorgeous three hour journey across an inky blue Mediterranean sea.
As ever, we got back feeling very privileged to be living the dream in just the way we imagined twenty years ago when we first visited The Blue Lagoon. The only difference is we have to share the experience with several thousand other people these days, apart from the dawn moment, but it still makes me smile to be on Comino....in Comino.
Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. And what better way to chill and relax than to spend the day at Sue and Ian's place. They are the most generous hosts you could ever wish for and their gorgeous pad up in the hills is the perfect place to unwind. Mind you, as the sun went down and the music volume increased, what had been a lazy afternoon turned into a bit of a party. Now there's a surprise....when the Tabone sisters get together you know it's going to get lively.
And so....this little sailing adventure of ours has begun again. Nicki and I departed from the UK last Thursday in the pouring rain and arrived in a very hot and sunny Malta feeling excited to be back after ten months away. What took us so long to return you ask. It was my temporary work at the Royal International Air Tattoo that kept us at home and it all ended in a spectacular finale - the airshow itself (the biggest in the world no less) in mid July. If you like the sound of a supercar revving up, that's nothing compared to an F35 takeoff and vertical climb pulling 5G's in the process. And then an F22. And then a few Typhoons. And then the Reds. A couple of Migs. A Spitfire etc. etc. etc. Rattles your bones!!! The whole three day event was absolutely awesome and I loved every minute of my five month involvement leading up to it. Thanks again Harriett for making it such a blast.
Anyway, that's enough about planes - let's get back to boats. It's five days since we got here and today is a biggy. We're moving back onto Comino as livaboards, having spent the time since our arrival cleaning and scrubbing what was essentially a giant sand pit. It was like half the Sahara Desert had been dumped onto the boat courtesy of the winter rain that carries the sand over from North Africa. A bedouin tent and a few camels on the foredeck wouldn't have looked out of place. Needless to say Comino looks like new again and we're itching to set sail to find a secluded bay where we can anchor and loose ourselves for a few days whilst we get back into the sea gypsy lifestyle.
Our base here since we arrived has been at Jane's house and as usual her and her family, plus a few friends, have used our presence as an excuse to kick off a non stop party. Hectic barely comes close to describing the proceedings. Probably the best way to catalogue the days just gone by would be to jot down a small diary of events.
Thursday 4th August - Got up at silly o'clock. Went to the airport in winter like conditions. Travelled on a flying cattle truck (Ryanair). Arrived in Malta and whisked away by Jane to her house with a pool on the roof. Dived in. Had lunch. People arrived early evening. Had BBQ (giant prawns and fresh swordfish). Much laughter. Wine flowed. End of day 1.
Friday 5th August - Got picked up and taken to see Comino. Oh lord. Better get cleaning then. Diver arrived to scrub the coral reef off the hull. Worked my socks off in searing heat. Went home to shower. We all went to another rooftop BBQ in Attard. Partied with 20 or so lovely people. Watched the fiesta fireworks. Very spectacular. Late night again. End of day 2.
Saturday 6th August - Worked my socks off once more. Got spruced up. Took Jane and Nicki to dinner. Amazing place - veranda over the beach. Fresh fish and some wine. Night cap at home. End of day 3.
Sunday 7th August - Walked to Msida Marina - 3 miles. Very hot. Worked my socks off. Got even hotter. Got a lift home. Got in the pool. Vegetated in front of the telly for the rest of the evening. Just a little bit of wine. End of day 4.
Monday 8th August - Got the bus to Msida Marina. Ray (the engine man) came and poured lots of loving TLC over the "donkey". Worked my socks off. Nicki and Jane arrived via Lidl. Boat fully stocked with food. Fridge full. Went home to glam up. BBQ at friends house in San Gwan. So many people to catch-up with. Very late night. End of day 5.
It's now Tuesday morning and we'll be packing up soon to head down to the boat. There's plenty more to do to get fully ship shape but being there full time will make it much easier. Doing work in the cool early mornings is less arduous for sure.
I mentioned our intention to slip our lines and quietly head out into the Med but in truth the party here is destined to continue for a few more days. There's another BBQ to attend tomorrow at Becky and Pierre's and then on Friday night we have a government permit to hold a beach party at Golden Sands to celebrate Jane's birthday. That'll be a sedate gathering of the clan....NOT. And finally, Sunday will be a day of absolute luxury at Ian and Sue's amazing house and pool up in Madelena. It's sort of the Maltese equivalent of Beverly Hills I guess. Monday is a bank holiday here which means the entire population will take to their boats and occupy every inch of every anchorage around the islands, so not a good day to head out. Therefore, it looks like another week before we hoist the sails and take to the high sea. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not complaining. We're having a ball and as busy as it sounds being on the boat from now on will make all the difference. That's because we'll be in our own home - in our own space - in shorts and flip flops - in the sunshine - surrounded by wonderful people - enjoying healthy food and a few glasses of vino. Oh no......I'm certainly not complaining.....neither is Nicki for that matter.
And so.... here we are five months after returning home to the Cotswolds and living a somewhat different life to the one we had on the boat. Lots of things have happened since we got back and therefore a bit of a catch-up seems in order.
Firstly, lets look retrospectively for a moment. Those last few days in Malta saw a very mixed bag of weather, demonstrating that the Mediterranean sea can turn on you big time as the summer fades into Autumn.
This was the scene as we walked along Sliema waterfront the day before departure. That structure is a popular outdoor swimming pool being swamped by gigantic waves. Funny how nobody seems to be in there today!
Looking back once again, the difference in diet we had on the boat reminds me of how much healthier most meals were. A typical dinner would have looked like this......
At home my culinary efforts result in platefuls of grub more like the one below. Either way, I can't quite get out of the habit of arranging food into pretty patterns on a plate. On more than one occasion I have had to endure comments like... " it looks better than it tastes"!
I may have mentioned some time ago that the garden had essentially reverted back to something resembling the Amazonian rainforest....only without any exotic animals....apart from next doors chickens, who pop over the wall each day and scratch to buggery what's left of my lawn. I can see a rather nice spatchcock style roast coming on soon if they're not careful.
To restore order I have basically adopted a slash and burn strategy using powerful petrol driven machinery. Or "boys toys" as Nicki calls them. This demanding work has kept me out of mischief for many a day, although the by products of my labours did create a problem of sorts. Let me elaborate. Hacking away at trees and shrubs results in huge piles of garden waste that has to be disposed of. I did try burning it, but all the neighbours complained that my daily infernos created enough smoke to seriously threaten climate change in the village, not to mention the effect it was having on their clean washing.
Plan B was necessary....take all the rubbish to the dump 6 miles away. However, Nicki's car is far too nice to use as a pick-up truck and therefore we needed to bite the bullet and get a second vehicle more suited to the task. The opportunity to finally realise a lifelong ambition was too big to miss. Another tick on my bucket list was staring me in the face. And the car I had in mind......
Practical, workhorse, great in bad weather, lots of luggage space.....the list of benefits I explained to Nicki before purchase were endless. Luckily she loves it and we both smile every time we go out in it. We like to venture into the wild countryside around us on what we call our "Cotswold Safaris". Is that a new business idea I just had?
Some weeks ago a troupe of our Maltese friends came over to stay with us and the Land Rover doubled up as an excellent people carrier. Needless to say the extra space was more than necessary after we took them on a trip to Primarni in Cheltenham.
It's just over a year ago since my father passed away and coming home has given us the opportunity to visit his grave several times, which now features a memorial stone in a style specified by him. As you can see, it bears his rank of Lieutenant Colonel and his name in Polish, also in accordance with his wishes. RIP.
And now to perhaps the most significant bit of news to report. Whilst Nicki has done her usual thing of going back to work at her old school, part time, I made the monumental decision to stop being a layabout, good for nothing loafer and start looking for gainful employment myself. It seems I am still reasonably employable as next week I join the Business Development Team for The Royal International Air Tattoo at nearby Fairford. All I can say is "chocks away", time to hang up my flip flops and get a haircut.
Apart from being the biggest airshow in the world, this event is a massive commercial enterprise with an enormous exhibition and trade fair attached. My involvement will take me to the end of July when we'll hop on a plane shortly afterwards to re-join the boat. I reckon we'll still have a good three months worth of cruising before the iffy weather sets in.
Although we'll be setting sail again somewhat later than usual, a spell of good, honest, hard work will be a real tonic. It also means the new BBQ might get some use and weekend trips to the coast in the Landy will also be on the agenda. A change is as good as a rest they say.....and I'm sure the next few months will be good fun. There is one image that I have tucked away inside my head though, just in case things get a bit hectic. It speaks for itself.
When we arrived back home it seemed like autumn had well and truly arrived. The first week or so was cold and damp, but then it all suddenly changed. We got a bit of an Indian Summer after all; so I stand corrected, based on my previous assumptions that it would be all wet and miserable from here on in. I have to admit we've had more BBQ's in the past few weeks than we've had in the past few years. I'm talking about here in the UK of course - over in the Med they are a very regular occurrence.
There is much going on at the moment in all sorts of ways and very soon I hope to post an update about a whole range of exciting new adventures for both of us. Watch this space. I'll make sure some pics are included too.
We are home. It's raining. We're wearing shoes and thick socks and other warm woolly things designed to minimise the amount of skin being exposed to the elements. There is a decision to be made each evening....shall we put the heating on or find a thicker jumper. A hot morning bath always seems like a good idea.
A week ago it was 30 degrees. Shorts and T-shirts and flip flops were our daily attire - nothing more required. Swimming in clear blue water as often as possible was necessary to cool down. Dining al fresco was a must.
As they say....a change is as good as a rest and being at home means we can see family again, which is always a pleasure. The garden is a jungle and large petrol driven machinery is clearly required to restore order. Lots of DIY jobs need doing in the house. There's no hurry....we'll tackle all the work over the coming months.... slowly but surely.
The contrast in lifestyle within one week is quite stark. But there's no doubt living in the Med some of the time and being at home some of the time is a wonderful mix. Actually, it's a privilege. All in all we're glad to be back in our home sweet home for a while....until the next adventure in the sun begins. Watch this space.
I'm having a Victor Meldrew moment - here goes..."I just don't believe it" ....in ten days time we'll be back home in the Cotswolds, no doubt enduring pouring rain every day and chilly nights huddled round a warm radiator. Or we might be blessed with an Indian Summer? Or pigs might fly!
I must say the thought of crawling under a duvet for the first time in months seems a little strange given that we're still coping with daily temperatures of 30 degrees plus over here. But as the saying goes.... "the end is nigh" and our thoughts are now slowly turning to the alarmingly long list of jobs that need doing on Comino before we disembark for the winter. Actually, if the truth be known, we have every intention of returning later in the autumn for a two week holiday to coincide with The Middle Sea Race. It's an event not to be missed and the yacht club goes into party overdrive - as indeed do its members! Besides, Comino will need quite a bit of maintenance work doing once the extreme heat has given way to cooler days. Well....that will be my excuse for booking flights back at the first available opportunity.
So, what's been occurring. Hectic is one way to describe the past few weeks, but as ever there's been no shortage of magic moments to savour along the way. I guess the highlight was picking Em and her hubby up from the airport for a week's holiday with us on the boat. Skype is a godsend but it doesn't substitute for a welcoming hug from your daughter after nearly four months apart.
In just six days we did just about everything on their slightly demanding wish list. A couple of days sailing, including anchoring for lunch and swimming from the boat. We did a pool day, a beach day, a day with Jane, which included plenty of eating, drinking and more swimming plus a bit of cultural sightseeing. To tell you the truth, when they left we were completely exhausted and needed a couple of days of doing nothing just to recover.
I tell people all the time....when you walk around the boat please wear deck shoes so that if you accidentally kick a cleat, or some other immovable object, it won't do you any damage. Shame I didn't follow my own advice. Sorry if this pic makes you feel a little queasy but do spare a thought for my pain. When I did it, I'm afraid the air was rather blue with four letter expletives....in fact, I sounded like the opening scene from Four Weddings and a Funeral. F*** F*** F*** F*** F*** F*** F*** and F***
This past weekend our good friends and our little armada of sailing boats decided that we would all risk a few days on the Island of Comino. Going over earlier in the season would have been horrific because of the marauding crowds and the hundreds of day boats that converge on every bay, beach, nook and cranny. In peak season if there's a tiny patch of spare sea bed less than six metres deep someone parks a sodin boat on it and then turns on their stereo at full volume to make sure everyone knows they've arrived. Was that another Victor Meldrew I just had?
Our gentle sail over on Saturday was nothing short of magnificent....peace and calm personified. The water is particularly blue at this time of year and the weather, although still hot, is not quite so humid. That means you didn't lose four pints of bodily fluids every time you walked from one side of the boat to the other. Our destination was Santa Maria, a small bay just round the corner from the Blue Lagoon. Idyllic just about sums up the place. For the first time I tried a new anchoring method whereby I dropped the hook close to the rocks and tied a line from the stern back to the land to hold me straight, preventing the boat from swinging as and when the wind changed. It meant that at the rear of Comino we had our own private swimming pool in water that was gin clear.
One of the highlights of the weekend was a BBQ on the beach....another first this year. We had to get permission from the local bobby first on account of the fact that it's not really permissible, but he clearly thought we were sober, clean living sort of folk looking for a quiet night sipping mineral water and cooking the odd sausage or two. WRONG!!!!
I prepared the meat mountain (and a bit of fish) for our group using various spicy marinades and aromatic sauces and although I say so myself the food fest turned out to be pretty damn good. We ate and drank and laughed long into the night and eventually jumped into our dinghies for the pitch black journey back across the bay to our respective boats, still giggling all the way. Thankfully nobody took a wrong turn and ended up half way to Sicily, although I don't think any of us made it to our boats in a straight line.
Sunday brought yet another first and perhaps one of the most poignant experiences since we set sail nearly four years ago. We took our dingy round to the Blue Lagoon and swam in water that is so spectacular it's off the scale. Yes it was busy, but not packed. All I can say is WOW. Twenty years ago we came into this place on a friend's yacht and I promised myself I would one day return in my own boat....and there we bloody well were....amazing, just amazing. OK, we poked our nose in a month or so ago for a quick look amongst the literally dozens of big tourist boats and hundreds of people swarming around like ants, but to actually dive in this time when it was relatively quiet was something special.
After yet more swimming we lifted the hook on Monday morning vowing to return for another spell in paradise next year before we head for Greece. I think we'll squeeze in one more boat trip before we come home on 10th September but I doubt anything will compare to the weekend we just had in Comino on Comino. The long awaited pilgrimage has now been completed. The deed had been done. We can come home contented.
My menu for the on-board dinner party we staged to re-pay friends for their generosity over the past few months was ambitious by anybody's standards. To pull it off from the galley of a boat in the middle of a heatwave was one heck of a challenge and to say it was hot work would be something of an understatement.
Nevertheless, with a great deal of preparation, it all came together and we enjoyed an evening of good food and fun filled banter. It did take most of the next day to complete the washing up though, as I think I managed to use every plate, pot and pan we have.
Here's what was served up :-
Pimm's on arrival
Prawn Cocktail - Giant Mediterranean Prawns oven baked in a garlic and white wine marinade, garnished with chopped parsley and sea salt.
Fish n' Chips - Salmon Fillets topped with a lemon zest and herb crust, red pepper cumin compote, mushy peas with garlic and fresh mint, potatoe wedges roasted in rosemary.
Cheese - a selection of fine cheeses left in the heat for two hours to maximise the soft and runny effect.
Wine - cold and lots of it.
Firstly, please ignore the date shown above for the posting of our latest news. The calendar software has gone haywire and I can't seem to fix it for the moment. This was written on 28/07/15.
For the past few weeks life has broadly been about trundling along in the slow lane - with one or two more hectic moments that I'll elaborate on in a minute. I think that's why we're both comfortable here.... these days it feels less like being on holiday and more akin to being permanent residents. There's something to be said for living in a marina with running water and electricity and heading out for day trips or longer stints at anchor whenever we feel like it. I know we're not being as adventurous as we were in the past, but there's no doubt we'll start proper travelling again next year. We would have gone to Greece this year if the place was a bit more stable financially.
Because our circle of friends continues to grow it does involve rather frequent gatherings over drinks and food, but that's just the way things are done around here. The Mediterranean lifestyle is much more social than we're used to back in the UK and friends tend to spend lots of time together in a kind of celebratory atmosphere where the underlying mood is best summed up as 'life is for living". Who can argue with that! Pool parties and BBQ's go on during the week so that weekends are free for time on the boats, of which there are four in our little troupe.
We had a five day visit from James (our son). This involved a bit of sailing (anchoring in a nearby bay more like), a day at a posh private lido set in luscious gardens, a BBQ day at Jane's rooftop terrace (with pool) and a day on the beach. It seemed sensible to hire a car for his trip and that meant we could squeeze in a bit of sightseeing as well. As ever, saying goodbye at the airport was tricky but we'll see him again soon I'm sure. Em (daughter) and her husband will be coming out in a few weeks, so another bit of family bonding is on the horizon.
There's been a serious heatwave here and it's actually no joke. The temperature on the boat has topped 120 degrees during the day, with little respite at night. Standing outside in the sun is unbearable and the only comfortable thing to do is dive into the water and stay there. As I write (Tuesday 28th) things have eased up a little with a gentle breeze, but this weekend promises to be a scorcher with another heatwave forecast. We'll be going to a bay somewhere to make sure we can flop into the sea every five minutes or so.
We recently met a group of friends at a trendy new restaurant in Sliema. The men (three of us) all ordered rib eye steak. Two things need to be said....firstly it was the most tender, succulent steak I have ever tasted in my entire life. Secondly, it was the largest amount of steak I have ever seen on a plate in my entire life. I guess you could call it a double whammy.
Nicki had a tooth incident a while back which required urgent treatment at quite a significant cost. It meant we couldn't meet up with some English friends as planned, who were over here for a holiday. Another double whammy of the negative kind.
We're probably nearing the half way mark for this year's sailing season in Malta and to mix things up a bit we booked ourselves into a waterfront hotel for three nights. This was also an attempt to alleviate the effects of the heatwave. We had a rooftop pool and air conditioned rooms (bliss) plus an English breakfast buffet included in the price (more bliss). It's months since I had bacon and eggs and boy did it taste good. We actually didn't leave the hotel for three days, taking full advantage of the four star facilities. Supper was taken on the seventh floor terrace overlooking the whole of Sliema and Valletta. One evening we watched a film crew at work below us on one of the quays at Manoel Island Boatyard. Nicki did a quick bit of internet research to find out what it might be and we discovered that we were only looking at Colin Firth and Rachel Weiss taking part in a new film about the life and times of Donald Crowhurst. Look up his name in Google and you'll find details of his fascinating and tragic story. We can't wait to watch the film and see the bits we saw being made - how sad is that!!!
Tomorrow night it's our turn to re-pay some of the wonderful hospitality we've received over the past few months. I'm cooking dinner for seven friends, which will be a Herculean task given the furnace like temperatures in the galley. I've always enjoyed a bit of a challenge though, particularly of the culinary kind. My aim today is to hunt down a bottle of Pimm's to start the party off - the Maltese like a bit of quintessential Englishness from time to time. To maintain the theme the main course will be fish n' chips, although there will be a few twists to the traditional British version. Let's just say "exotic fish n' chips" - I'll take some pics to show you what I mean.
Comino is here
Prawn to be free