Google+ Badge

Monday, 28 November 2011

A day at the theatre

I wonder if I hadn't set out on this dream of crossing oceans, learning to sail, buying a yacht, exploring the islands of the Caribbean, would I be in this waiting room at Preston Royal hospital at 7.30am on Wednesday 23rd of November. Perhaps not, perhaps I would have opted for the radio therapy, a rather less painful, less radical way of dealing with my cancerous prostate gland. I may even have gone for the watchful waiting option of doing nothing. After all it may not develop into a life threatening problem at all, that's how it is with this disease. But these alternatives would mean having very regular tests to keep an eye on its progress. The idea of going cruising and having this Damocles hammer hanging over our voyaging in the end swung the decision.

So there I am at 8am with my NHS backless smock and dressing gown being escorted to the theatre clutching a pillow I've been given to carry. I'm reminded of Ford Prefect in Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy who has to have a trusty towel with him prior to his excursions in hyperdrive. I don't think to ask why I'm carrying this pillow, but sheepishly follow directions as we trek the maze of corridors to finally be ushered into theatre 7, and the pre op room. Lucky 7 says my escort, but I'm not at all feeling lucky, I'm feeling distinctly nervous.

Carolyn is the antithesis and Jo her assistant, who exchange a sort of calming banter with me as I'm wired and pricked and readied for the reason I made it to here, next is oblivion until I come round in a bed on ward 15.

Jackie appears with a massive smile and a big hug, its about 3pm and my operation has been and gone. the surgeon pays a brief visit, tells me my prostate weighed 100g and is gone. Funnily enough I'm not in any pain but this tube stuck up my willie does feel decidedly odd. My only inclination of the op is a feeling in my midriff of perhaps being kicked, sort of tender but not what you'ld call painful.

 Jackie stays around until eight and we even manage a couple of games of backgammon then it's chucking out time and Jackie goes off to find a hotel for the night, and I settle in to hospital banter with the other inmates and the sights and sounds of ward 15. Next day I expect to be going home, but it doesn't quite go that way, I have to stay an extra night. Something to do with the amount of stuff in my drain bag. A bit of a disappointment but on Friday afternoon I'm out and on my way home.

I've been home now for a couple of days and apart from the inconvenience of having this catheter to deal with, which I've got for another ten days I'm feeling ok. It was not a very pleasant experience but by all accounts it should be a cure and that was what I wanted. The prospect of our high seas adventure without the threat of cancer hanging in the air will have made this trial more than worthwhile, although I'll have to wait about three months to get he all clear, but by all accounts it should be all behind us now.

As all this has been going on so has the ARC which has just set off from the Canaries on route for St Lucia and we've been tuning in to check their progress. We said three years ago that we would love to do this trip, before we knew how to sail, and after going through this last week trial we're starting to think seriously about entering for next year 2012. I have a feeling that we may have a plan coming together here.

Radical solution

It's been a couple of months since I was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, not the sort of news you want to hear when you've got plans for a big adventure. I was given the choice of three different treatments, which were, something called watchful waiting, which involved doing nothing except monitoring some stuff called my PSA levels in my blood. This would involve nothing more that having blood tests on a regular six monthly basis. Second was radio therapy, which would mean an 8 or ten week series of 10 minute blasts of radiation treatment. This was a painless procedure that would probably zap the little bugger, and then they would monitor me for the next 15 years or so to keep a check that it didn't return. The only down side to this was that if it returned I wouldn't be able to have an operation to take it out. Not sure why, but the radio therapy would probably work and get rid. The last, and more radical solution was to have what they now call a procedure, and have the whole prostrate removed. Radical prostectomy can leave you impotent and in the aftermath of the op leave with a catheter and wearing pads to catch the leaks, like having my own mini bilge pump. But the good news is that this situation would only last about six weeks. Afterwards the cancer would be gone, and so that's the one I decided to go for.
So a couple of days ago I took a two hour drive with the skipper to meet with the man who was to do what they now call the procedure. At the Royal Preston Hospital I met the surgeon who explained everything in a reassuringly nonchalant way, and reckoned I would only be in for about 48 hours. It will be done with whats known as key hole surgery which is less intrusive than the old method. He tells me that I will have the op. inside of 31 days which makes it before the end of this month.
Then I'll be out of action for about 8 to 10 weeks, which I'm of course not looking forward to, I'm not into pain, who is, but he tells me that after going through this I will be cured of the cancer, which has not spread anywhere else.
That is all I want because we've got this plan that's been burning brightly for almost three years and we aim to start next spring. By that time I expect to be up and running and ready to set sail. And this way means I don't have to keep having tests, worrying about this thing and can be free to enjoy the rest of my life on the ocean waves following this crazy dream. It's a bit of a radical solution but to have peace of mind instead of uncertainty seems worth the anguish and pain that I'm expecting to go through, though hopefully it won't be as bad as I'm anticipating.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Fashionably late

The landscapes of Cepheloniia and Ithica float like monochrome ghosts on  flat calm Mediterranean seas receding in graduated tones towards the distant horizons. Towering like Herculean giants above our scattered fleet of minuscule sailboats as we scatter in search of the slightest zephyr to waft us on to our next port of call. This is the scene that is to be repeated every afternoon on our weeks flotilla holiday in the Ionian seas. It's the end of September when the winds are more than predicable, according to our lead skipper, Dan, at this time of year, but for some inexplicable reason, this week the forecasters are stumped as to these freak conditions. It's always calm in the mornings, blows up through noon till late afternoon and then dies at night. This week it's   fickle winds in Fiskardo, and all around these splendid sailing grounds. Back in England they've had balmy Indian summer weather with highs of 30 degrees, unheard of in October.

Global warming brings strange bits of unlikely weather to all parts of the globe, and it looks like we got our funny bit in Greece this week.

There's ten yachts in the flotilla, and ours is called Pirgos, named after the Minoan settlement of 1450 BC.  Shes a 32ft Beneteau with in mast furling mainsail, which is a first for us and we're eager to see if we like this new fangled idea. We've only done old fashioned sails so far so this will be our chance to see if we get on with it or not.

Lots of little things annoy us about our boat, like the position of the mirror in the heads,-too low, the silly cupboard door above the stove, how the only place to prepare food in the galley is on top of the fridge which you always want to get into, and can't because that's where your preparing stuff. There's no holders in the cockpit for a bottle or can, and no cubby holes for your bits and bobs. And most annoying of all, the wheel squeaks, this is most annoying when searching for the wind at one or two knots. Apart from that shes an adequate boat and certainly a step up from our 27ft Jag that we sailed last year. In fact when we do catch the wind she's quite fun to sail.

All in all the week was without incident for us, and we found stepping up to this larger yacht was, to say the least, a piece of piss. We handled the changes in points of sail effortlessly on 99.9% of our voyages, and when we did get into a two and eight we simply started up Mr engine Sir and promptly brought us back to where we should have been, cut the engine and sailed on like we'ld been doing this for years.

Mind you the winds were never very strong and the seas were more than kind. Only one morning were we out in anything that resembled a blow, most of the sailing was in light airs. But that meant we had to trim the sails and search out the winds. We would seek out the on shore breezes by hugging the coast, or search for dark water where there maybe a bit more wind in our sails.

In previous sails we have inadvertently found ourselves hove too, this time we deliberately tried the manoeuvre, which was successful, and we stopped for lunch miles out at sea. When we had very light winds behind us one day we set the sails goose winged, with a preventer on the mainsail to stop the boom swinging across the boat. We sailed very long tacks to catch the best of the light winds, anything to avoid turning on the engine. Often this meant that we were out much longer than most of our fleet who were often home 2 hours ahead of us, but we were there for the sailing. Perhaps many of the others were looking for a nice bay to stop for a swim, or investigate the tavernas of the next port.

One of the days saw us attempt a gallant rescue of one of our flotilla companions who had the misfortune of getting their anchor stuck whilst stopping for lunch in a small bay at the southern tip of Ithaca. We were the only boat still in the bay, except for Nericos who had tried to leave but were stuck fast unable to raise their anchor. We tried attaching a line to their anchor chain. They had moored very close to a rocky shore and try as we may we only succeeded in dragging our boat close to the perilous shore. we gave up and promised to radio our lead boat when we exited the bay and could make radio contact. This had to be done via a relay with other boats further up the coast, as the VHF only works in line of sight and Kalypso, our lead boat was already home and out of radio contact. Eventually they made contact via mobile phone, Jackie was able to find the number as they,Nericos, couldn't find it. The message came back for them to cut their anchor and we motored slowly out at sea maintaining radio contact until they finally rounded the point out of the bay and we all sailed safely to Kioni.

We were confined to port in Kioni as the winds were up the next morning and it was impossible for us to sail directly into the gale that was blowing to reach Savota. I would have loved to have gone out to test our skills in the wind but prudence kept us in port and anyway it gave us a chance to swim and paint, and chill for a day.

We not only had a squeaky wheel, we had a very reluctant furling mainsail that refused all attempts to reel, or furl in easily. When we wanted to practise our reefing skills the sail refused to slip back into the mast easily. No amount of tugging and heaving would budge it. In fact we had to use the winch to extend the sail to its full capacity and this caused the sail to pop out at the bottom of the leach which fouled the sail on the way back in. we eventually found out how to deal with this but it meant going to the mast and cajoling the bloody thing to move from there. It sort of put me off the whole idea of roller reefing mainsails.

At the end of term party at the Captains cabin in Fiskardo the lead crew handed out awards to various crews for our endeavours of the week. First up was a rambling speech about some crew that had made the best of the fickle winds of the week, a boat that was almost always last into port, and a crew that had teased the best of a week of light airs, a boat that was fashionably late into every port. And the award goes to........PIRGOS.
We were a bit pissed by the time these awards were handed out and I hadn't exactly paid attention to what was being said but when all the other awards seemed to be for calamities that had befallen various boats I felt quite proud of our plywood cutout, that now stands on our mantelshelf a testimony to our progress from novices to navigators.    

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The perfect boat

Have you ever been to the Southampton boat show? This was our first  boat show and we picked the biggy. We hit the queue of cars at 1pm and crawled our way to a car park by 1415. We were given a choice of car parks on illuminated road signs and eventually chose one, only to find that it was a multi storey with a height restriction that was too restricted for our van. Then we got lost in a shopping experience. Welcome to Southampton retail park, the sign read, parking for customers only. We retrace our tracks to the main road and head back to the Leisure complex, which we almost chose half an hour earlier, about half a mile back down the road. It's eight quid for all day, even though its now 2pm, but at least we've got a berth. Then the heavens open just as we're about to head for the show.

By now it was 2.30 and we wondered whether it was even worth going in at such a late hour but as it didn't close till 6.30 we decided that four hours would be enough time. It was and it wasn't, but we paid the girl and entered the site. By this time we were starving and in need of sustenance, bugger the boats I needed a burger.

 We weaved our way between hundreds of nautical paraphernalia stalls, over bridges and eventually found what we were looking for, food. The gourmet burger stall had tables and chairs so we sat down to eat, but within seconds of our arrival the heavens opened again and we sat under the brolly munching our food as the downpour rained down harder and harder until we eventually had to admit defeat and took shelter under the awning.

The shower passed and we headed off for the pontoons to take in the cornucopia of exhibits. We stepped aboard a number of boats that were well beyond our price range, pretending to be millionaires who just might buy this boat or that, and dodged the torrential showers that marched on through the afternoon.

In the end we bought a couple of life jackets and at 6.30pm headed for a town nearby called Hamble to find a B+B for the night. Unfortunately there were no B+Bs in Hamble but we did find a camp site. Hamble sounded like a good idea as Jackie reckoned she had seen boats for sale in a place called Hamble, and how right she was, as the next day we discovered this creek was filled with wall to wall boats.

We pitched our minuscule tent in the dark, drank wine, played back gammon and went to sleep. It was cold and miserable, the tent was inadequate, wet with condensation, and we spent a fitfull night being uncomfortable.

The next day, tired and unrested we found Hamble marina and an expensive waterfront cafe for breakfast. After breakfast we checked out some of the brokerages windows and picked a couple of boats to go and have a look at. We chose a couple of the cheapest we could find, a Contessa 32 and an Island Packet 350. The Contessa was a nice boat but too small and at 45,000 out of our price range but we're only looking and every look brings you closer to knowing what you want.

And then we ran into our dream boat. She is a beauty and  we want this boat. It took about ten seconds aboard to know it. She's way beyond our budget, at £80,000  but she hit all our buttons. Maybe in America, where they are built we could find one in our price range, but if we had anywhere close to this money we would have sailed her away there and then.

So even though we didn't find it at the boat show the trip has been very fruitful, and although by the time we get back to Ulverston were knackered to say the least, we have perhaps homed in on our perfect boat. A quick surf of the net produces at least one that's the same price in dollars, and the same year, but in the USA.
We'll keep looking of course, but our search is narrowing down, and by the time we come to buy, and have the money, in 2012 the Island Packet just may still be top of our list.

Whistle stop grand kids visit

Thankful for not having to camp in the van, and now rested we hit the road at about 7.30am and head for Ports mouth. We're going to visit my son and his wifes' family who we very rarely see as they're at the other end of the country. They have just had a new arrival, Logan, who is all of three weeks old, as well as Aurora and Lennon, three and five respectively. I wonder what happened to proper names like John Mary and Jack, and what on earth we should bring as a gift for the kids. Sweets, maybe, toys, maybe, they've probably got enough of both, and then there's the e numbers to consider. I'm such a hopeless granddad, so out of touch with this sort of stuff and filled with just a might of trepidation at making a good impression. In the end we just arrive with ourselves.

For two hours we chat and interact with them. The kids are so full of energy and I play throw the soft toys at each other in their bedroom, get to hold the tiny Logan, pass him to Jackie, have a cup of tea and try to have conversations with their mum and dad. By noon I'm worn out and as they have a christening to get ready for we say our goodbyes and get back in the van and head out to Southampton. Maybe we should have stayed longer but for me it was enough. Were they round the corner we would make frequent visits, but at this distance leaving as soon as we did feels a bit odd. But it was always going to be like this and to be quite honest two hours was enough. Anyway I'ld wound them up so much it was time to move on.

The long and winding road

Without a doubt doing just short of nine hundred miles stuck in the cab of a transit van is not my idea of fun anymore, or was it ever. Back in the 70's, in my other life as a rock n roll musician we would head out of London on a Friday afternoon and do a gig half way up the country, then head on up to Scotland where we would do another on Saturday, then high tail it back to London after the gig getting home at maybe 7am Sunday. Those were the days my friend, but now in my early sixties, it wasn't a prospect neither of us was looking forward to, but it had to be done. The only cherry on this cake was going to be a visit to the Southampton boat show, oh, and the chance to catch up with my sons family and new arrival Logan who live in Portsmouth.

We set off at 8am in typical Cumbrian weather, it was throwing it down, and it didn't stop throwing it down until we were miles south of Manchester. Jackie elected to do this part of the drive, whilst I read the paper and Cat nodded off. We don't do any motorway driving round here so being thrust into the madness of driving rain and madcap would be formula one maniacs was not the best of starts to our journey to Canterbury.

Eventually the weather cheered up and without incident we arrived at our destination, and Cats accommodation for the next year at about 4pm. We off loaded enough stuff to fill Cathys' small room and went in search of a shop but we found planet Tesco instead, in the middle of Canterbury. The chaos of Tesco is enough to make me run for the hills at any time but after an eight hour drive its pure hell. We stayed as long as it takes to buy the basics for Cats initial larder and a couple of bottles of vino for the grown ups.

Back at Cats student digs we said our short as possible emotional goodbyes and headed in the direction of the M25 and the road to Portsmouth. It was dusk and the plan was to camp in the back of the van. We would get a few miles under our wheels before pulling in somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be a service station but the sign said you couldn't stay overnight, and at that moment we didn't relish the idea of a hard floor in the back of the van. Especially as there was a hotel beckoning us. Lets do that we decided, even though it was a squeeze on our purse strings. Sorry we're full, said the receptionist, our plan had been thwarted, so we decided to get back on the road. We were on the wrong road anyway, going east instead of west as you do on these long trips to strange places. We head back the way we came and find the right road which led us to the next services where they had a room, only one left. We'll take it, we said. We're about 2 hours out of Portsmouth and it's about 9pm.

At a picnic table outside the motel we set up the backgammon, crack open the wine and light up. England is now a no smoking anywhere indoors country, soon to be outdoors too I would guess, but for now we're safe from the fag police here, wrapped up against the chill of the autumn night air we play out three games, that I loose 2 to 1, almost polish off two bottles and flop into bed in our soulless room for a well deserved sleep. Tomorrow we'll make Portsmouth and see my sons family, we should be there about 10am.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A couple of buckets

Just our luck, first chance to sail  this  year at Morcambe with John from our bay sea school courses and when we arrive it's almost flat calm. Little ripples say it's 1 on that Beauford scale thingy. John reckons theres enough wind though to sail  Lilly which is a 22ft Jeanneau.
Great to be back on the water though even if it's only just enough breeze to move the boat, but once away from the mooring bouy it's surpising how we have enough way to do a bit of practice tacking. Besides me and Jackie there's a guy called Danny who's coming back to sailing after a couple of years away.  It's the first time we've been out sailing with John, even though we've done all our shorebased courses with him. He's just been awarded Best instructor for Scot sail in 2010, and I'm sure he deserves it, he's very patient, and you never feel you've asked too dumb a question. This is a couple of hours sail and in that time we learned some more about the nuances of sail trimming. We then did some practice on sailing up to our mooring with a 1 to 2 knot tide running. This involved chucking a couple of buckets out of the back to act as brakes, very informative. We did this a few times, could come in useful. I really feel we've come a long long way since we knew nothing, and it was good to be back sailing, and so good to do it with John Parlane, I think we'll do another couple of these before we take off with a flotilla in Kefelonia in September on a 32 footer, moving on up towards our 36, and all by ourselves, no more novices, but of course still a lot of learning to do.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Hearts of Oak

Round about Christmas we were wandering round our local market when we bumped into an acquaintance, a woman who as part of our towns heritage association who had been instrumental in raising funds to restore the last boat to be built in Ulverston. Long ago in the 1800s Ulverston used to build ships, at workshops on  the Canal. The boat above was called the Hearts of Oak, she had been abandoned and was in disrepair, in fact an almost wreck. The owner heard about the heritage trust and offered her for free to them, which they accepted and set about applying for funds to have her restored. The task took about 5 years and eventually Hearts of oak returned to Ulverston, almost as good as new, or maybe better than new. 

Our conversation in the market turned to ask about the progress with Hearts of Oak. Jennifer told us that she was berthed in Barrow docks but they hadn't been able to sail her as much as they would like because of a lack of people who knew how to sail amongst their trustees.

Well we said how about us, we've just passed our yacht master certificates. "I didn't know  you could sail" said Jennifer. "Well we've only been sailing for a year, but we would love to join your crew". And so we asked where we could find the boat and a few days later we went to take a look at her lying in the Barrow dock.

What a lovely sight she was, and very different to anything we had been learning to sail over the past year, but here was a boat we could perhaps get some more sailing experience on. We got back in touch with Jennifer and arranged to join the trustees on one of their working days getting the boat ready to sail to various boat shows throughout 2011, the first would be sailing to Liverpool to take part in a classic show in April.

We met with about half a dozen others on a bright Sunday a couple of weeks ago, they seem like a nice bunch of people, but there is still much work to do before Hearts of Oak can set sail. Number one is to install a new engine as the old one is too much of a liability, as well as a few cosmetic repairs below.

I don't know if she'll be ready for the trip in April, but it's a very interesting development in our sailing adventure, if we get to sea, something very different to what we had in mind, but watch this space.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Looking at boats in Luperon, Republica Dominicana

January was spent in the Dominican Republic where we have a small condo on the Atlantic coast. Last year, when this sailing stuff was very new we managed to go sailing with a geordie guy called Ray, (see earlier posts) but this year he wasn't too well and on top of that his boat needed some things fixing. We were a little disappointed but we visited Luperon to at least have a look round some boats. We had picked three to view, a Beneteau a Morgan and a Lavranos, built in S. Africa.  

A guy called Ron took us round the harbour and we spent all morning viewing these boats. From the website all these looked like they were ready to cruise the Caribbean but the reality was very different. The Beneteau and the Morgan were project boats, that is they needed a lot of work to get them ship shape. The Lavranos was the best turned out and very well equipped, but a bit too pricey for us and Jackie wasn't too keen on the cream painted interior. Anyway we don't have the funds in place as yet so this was really just an excercise in what you could get in that price range.

A couple of days later we went back to look at a Peterson that had just arrived on the market, not bad but not us. We're really keen to try and view a Tayana, and we thought we spotted on right up at the entrance to Luperon. We hitched a ride with a guy called Dag and went for a cruise around this boat called September song, and sure enough it was a Tayana 36, but nobody knew who owned her, or if it was for sale. It looked like a nice boat though, to us, very traditional sort of craft.

With our holiday almost at an end we found a sailing school that hired out Lazers, but also ran courses on a little 20ft dingy. It was a bit pricey but we decided to have an hour with a Belgium tutor who had been doing this for 23 years. It was a lot of fun, although very different to our experiences on big yachts. He was very complimentary about our sailing skills, which was nice, and we had perfect weather and seas. But we only had an hour in Cabarete bay, next year we'll do more and try to get the hang of dingy sailing.

Hopefully by the time we get back next year we'll have the money to buy the boat, although I don't know if we'll find it in Luperon. Strange thing is, whilst we were there we tried to google that boat September song but drew a blank. Last week Jackie was browsing and lo and behold there it was on boat listings, although it says shes never been in the tropics, maybe there's two Tayanas called September song. I wrote a song  called September song, how weird is that, could this be fate. We mailed the agent but haven't heard back as yet, you never Know she might be waiting just for us, we'll see.