World Refugee Day - June 20th 2013.
Franco and Michele arrived at the boat and got me up. I was a bit groggy from the night before as a few friends had come on board to say Good bye and we sunk a few beers. We prepared the boat and left Lampedusa at 5.15 am it was sunrise but only just, the village looked so peaceful, the harbor so still. One fishing boat murmured on the other side of the harbor. I had a feeling I would be leaving for good .
It was strange sensation to be going and not at all how I had imagined or perceived but I had no choice it was World Refugee Day 20th June, really time to go.
The next couple of weeks would be a very steep learning curve. Franco a Lampedusa Guardia Costiera Engineer had taken it upon himself to be guardian in crossing from Lampedusa to Sicily. He had become a good friend with the rest of his crew and they had all shown great support in my endeavours and had helped on the engine and advising about bits and pieces. It was a last minute decision that he would come, he happened to be going on leave back to his home in Trapani. I am glad he came I needed him more then he could ever had perceived.
The engine had not had a chance to be fully tested since being upgraded and a faulty alternator had been fitted by a local which had made me nervous, Franco had fixed it earlier. This was going to be a long navigation for this boat the longest in fact in the whole Journey.
After a few hours with no land in sight we spotted several turtles and a few dolphins. It was finally happening this trip after I first contemplated it back in February 2011 when the Tunisia uprising had erupted. The trip should have happened in 2011, when in May, I was granted a boat. It would have been far more poignant and that is what I wanted to happen but it was out of my control. But that's another story.
Franco took the role of captain and suddenly the trip started to feel like a military exercise with me being the deckhand. I was glad after I tested the new Gps and the steering that Franco was role playing as I took us merrily straight of course. Finding the steering impossible I began to feel like a failure. Franco wasn't to impressed but this was a highly unusual boat with her own idiosyncrasies. I needed time to work her out.
A bit like when you try an old Dutch bike without handle bar brakes, you pedal backwards to stop. I remember having one in Amsterdam and not coping at all. I dumped it after a few days covered in cuts and bruises after using my feet to stop in urgent situations.
We reached Pantelleria at 7.30pm that evening. We got a mooring next to a derelict shower/ toilet block someone has performed a dirty protest in there. It was like a scene from 'Trainspotting'. We are at the end of the harbour. We slept on the deck like sardines in full view of the harbour and peering fisherman looking slightly confused. Wandering why we had pitched up in a migrant boat. I remember dropping off to murmurs in Italian of 'This is the boat of the clandestine, look a Tunisian boat'.
|Lights on, ready to head to London.|
|Leaving Lampedusa Harbor.|
|The Fabulous Franco Stramandino.|
Franco got me up at 6.30 am. I was feeling exhausted from the day before. Pantelleria harbour didn't have the dilapidated quaintness of Lampedusa harbour . It was more Italian modernest, 70's buildings, slightly austere. We needed to top up on some fuel so Franco sent me over to the other side of the harbour with a Jerry can. As you couldn't dock on that side due to rocks. I picked us up some breakfast.
I came back and the Guardia Costiera were at the boat to check my papers.
The fisherman were not going out that morning as the sea was going to get rough with up to two metre high waves. It was going to get worst for up to five days.
Franco said we should just go and quickly. I trusted Franco implicitly he had been a total angel yesterday. I was lucky he was with me. We couldn't get stuck in Pantelleria for five days had I been alone I would have stopped and waited.
We left and things were really rough outside the harbour. TO6411 crashed over the waves and they bailed over the top of her bow. I was worried Franco thought this was a Guardia Costiera boat. She is very wide and rolled from side to side. The waves were 2 meters high we tossed about like ants clinging to a plastic bottle at sea. I sat clinging to the canopy leg. This carried on for five hours. I felt like I was sailing in the Pacific again. I love the power of the waves it didn't feel like the Med at all. We decided to head for the closest point Marsala.
The sea calmed down by about 2.00pm. I was navigating Franco was taking a well deserved nap. I saw a boat in the distance and it started to come towards me at at flying speed, I got worried I was wandering who or what it was. As it came closer I realised it was a Guardia di Finanza boat. He slowed right down and came alongside about 250 meters from my boat. They took a good look and realised the boat wasn't jammed packed with migrants but with a single women sitting navigating at the stern with a British Ensign blowing in the wind. I giggled to myself.
We got to Marsala around 7.00pm I was completely finished so were my upper bi-ceps. I could hardly keep my eyes open. Franco was on top form. We moored up at Porticciolo Turistico, Marsala and were met by Billy the ormeggiatori an absolute gem of a man with sparkly naughty eyes. He was a friend of Franco's. He said I could moor for free. Franco's brother came and picked him up and I settled down for the first time alone on the boat.
Potted around the boat for the day sorting things out from the hectic day before. Billy pottered round and introduced me to all the locals. He made a big effort to make me feel at home. Which I really appreciated as I had had an exhausting few weeks. Franco turned up with his girlfriend and a couple of mates and we went in to town and had a couple of beers. Marsala had a lovely town centre and good feel.
Got up late and Franco and his girlfriend Caterina Mazzara came by. Caterina was an artist and Arabic dance teacher. She had the most beautiful long glossy black hair and amazing bone structure her face was like a Siamese cat. Caterina was keen to show me her work as she wanted a gallery in London. We went to Trapani and took a studio visit her paintings were mostly realistic portraits of refugees and religious iconography. She was a highly skilled painter.
We then stopped for lunch at a family run affair outside of Trapani. Wow, what a feast having not eaten really well since leaving Lampedusa I was staving. The smell wafting from this kitchen was amazing pungent with garlic, I knew we were in for a treat. I haven't come across wafts like this for some time, this was going to be good. Out came huge platters of squid, whitebait fritters, Octopus, claims, mussels and Scallops. Washed down a delicious crisp local white Pinot Grigio.
Franco's Chihuahua was in a local show so we went to see how she was getting along. She came first in her class, Franco was over the moon. We then drove back to Marsala around the coast along by the salt plains and gorgeous windmills with delicate lace like propellers that looked as if they were made of twigs.
Pottered around the marina, Did some bits and pieces on the boat.
Today we left for Trapani around 8.30am Franco had come to check my boat handling as I was on my own after this. I practised in the harbour for twenty minutes, it drove Franco up the wall. He didn't have a lot of time for experimentation with navigation but that is what I needed for handling a boat like this. This is what one has to do.
I felt ill prepared deep down and furious with the boat yard in Lampedusa that had not prepared the works for the boat in time. So it went into the water weeks after schedule. A friend with a yacht-master from London had flown over especially to test out the boat and to give me some navigational support. He ended up sitting in my apartment for a week watching Utube films on his computer, then he had to leave for his next assignment total expensive waste of time. For me and for him. I realised later that this boat yard had it in for me and TO 6411 and were going to make things as difficult as possible.
We meet Franco's ex Commandant he had a lovely face with a classic sea captain look. We were out and about in the harbour he promptly told me that I was crazy wanting to take this boat to London. Well, life is for living and I had had so much macho criticism from Sicilian men, the women have been very supportive. These comments now don't even touch the sides they slide over me like oil, oil over a burning engine matched with a burning animosity of sexist men.
Franco did manage to let me navigate for the whole trip which I was really grateful for. We got to Trapani around 11.00am Katerina joined and we went and got some lunch whilst Franco did some bits to the boat. We got a mooring at Franco's friends ormeggiatori which was brilliant he said I could stay there for a couple of nights.
We made some adjustments to the boat and fitted the much needed fridge and solar panels to keep the batteries good. The weather was no good to leave.
The transformer needed changing as it was fitted for British current and the boat was shorting due to the difference in British and continental current. So Franco re-wired the system. Poor Franco he wasn't expecting to do that. The weather still was problematic.
I pottered around the marina. Made some adjustments to the canopy, I would have left this morning but the weather was no good. I was ready to press on now alone. I was getting used to sleeping now in TO6411, the space the noises and getting a routine for this new life for the next few months. I felt nervous that now I was alone but very focused. When you really focus on a goal it becomes your whole reason for being. Everything becomes a bit secondary. I was very focused on the meaning and intention behind what I was doing.
I cut the tarpaulin to make a cover for the bow and wheelhouse in the afternoon. A couple in a lovely yacht asked me to help them pull the bow round as they were having a few problems manoeuvring after getting caught in someones lines. The women Katerina was from Palermo. Katerina was a sweetie, we decided to go out altogether later to a Regatta of classic yachts. I have always liked Trapani. The layout of the old town with its crammed streets, its big beautiful harbour in neat sections. The fishing boats and amazing fish market at one end. If you think of typical Sicilian fishing scene this is it straight out if the fifties then this is it very visual with a total jumble of boats, carts, nets and weather beaten men, totally fabulous.
The classic yachts and ketches were simply magnificent. We sat in the yacht club garden and chilled out. I was keen though to get back to my boat I felt strange leaving her. I was so attached to her she has become like a surrogate child. When you depend on something so much you become very protective and close. I
get quite emotional talking about her sometimes I begin to well up. Even before this navigation had started I had had to protect her so much.
Back at the boat we had pizza it had now been lifted onto the hard. Next to mine a total giant in comparison.
I prepared to leave Trapani early but did not manage as it rained in the morning. I was anxious to see Franco before I left so I made up a lame excuse that I found it hard to get the service battery working. He came down looking perplexed but it was really important to see him before I left. He had been a great comfort and I could feel real anxiety that he was now only going to be their on Facebook. The weather was supposed to be good. Time to head for Capo San Vito.
The waves were big outside Trapani harbour and I got a little anxious they were as big as outside Pantelleria but this time I was alone. I just kept remembering everything that Franco had said. It was tough trying to dodge all the fishing buoys and too rough to stand up so I tied myself on with a big rope. I sat clinging to the rudder stick and hoped for the best. It was a great feeling crashing around in the waves. Heading home.
I arrived at Capo San Vito after 8 hours arriving in a gorgeous small marina close to the cape outside a little from the town. The ormeggiatori were jumping up and down waving at the moorings I came in and they helped tie up TO6411. I told them about the project they offered me a mooring for €20.00 they would super nice people.
I had a snooze, a few hours later I took walk out to the lighthouse to watch the sunset. A huge beech rolled out in front of me like a serpent. I then walked into town a number of migrants were living in tents on the side of the road and washing in the public conveniences it reminded me of why I was making this trip. It was a sad sight. They were working the market stalls and stroll selling. I wandering the promenade set against a large horseshoe shaped beech.
The restaurants were all very touristy so decided to head for the outskirts of town. I found a very Traditional Italian Family restaurant heaving with big Sicilian families, kids running everywhere dodging the waiters. Perfect.
I ordered my favourite pasta dish Spaghetti and clams and it was full of succulent claims and garlic. I was totally happy. I got some looks from the women all beautifully dressed. My black trousers were encrusted in Salt from the knees down due to having to crawl around on the deck outside Trapani as the sea was so rough. I wandered back to TO6411 and she rocked me to sleep.
|Marina Capo San Vito.|
|Light House Capo San Vito.|
I set off for Palermo around 1.00 pm to late really but my upper biceps were aching from the tough navigation the day before. Pain killers and 'deep heat' for the moment. I reached Palermo late around 7.00pm. Katerina in Trapani had arranged a Lega Navale mooring through a friend of her's in Palermo for free. I came in but couldn't see their platoon quay so some fisherman beckoned me over to tie alongside. They were very raw looking with amazing rusty lined faces. The captain was solid who looked like he had been kneaded out of bread dough. His two look out boys of around 14 were stick thin like a couple of Giacometti figures. They were all talking at once in Sicilian at me. I was totally confused they wanted to help, they couldn't believe where I had come from and where I was planning to get too.
They insisted on calling the coast guard to find the Lega Navale platoon. They had given me a berth on the main road, the fisherman came and gave me a hand. It was a strange place to spend the night I collapsed as it was late.
I woke up it felt strange pissing into a bucket on the deck with a city and people racing to work on the other side of a sheet of plastic.
I was hungry and saw a cafe opposite, Large vats of bubbling brown meat and bread rolls sat piled up. I asked what the meat was the cook pointed to his stomach.The cafe was full of fisherman munching into these rolls and guzzling Peronis at 8.30 am . I felt awkward staring at this vat of brown meat it was quite mesmerising so I ordered one. I bit into it and what looked like an eye socket popped out to say Hi, it wasn't for me so I decided to wrap it up and try it as fish bate on the way to Capo d'Orlando.
I found another cafe and decided to go for something more conventional corneto marmalade and a latte. My staple breakfast at Bar Rosa, Lampedusa. It was very comforting. The fisherman from the night before were there and greeted me. They had visited the boat that morning at 5.00am shouting 'ciao, ciao' from the street. They had stirred me but I was in a deep sleep. So I wasn't ready to greet them at that moment .
My biceps had been extremely painful that night from the heavy rudder. I rubbed some 'deep heat' into them the physical strength needed for this boat was intense.
I pottered round the boat for the day. In the evening a friend of Katerina's, Marko . He had arranged the Lega Navale berth he went to get pizza as I hadn't eaten all day. He left I crashed out I was emotionally drained.
I felt pretty depressed for myself but pleased for migrants landing in Lampedusa when I read that Pope Francesco was going to Lampedusa on the 8th July. I realised that my suspicions were spot on that the local priest in Lampedusa, had blocked my request all a long. I had written to Pope Benedict back in December 2012 requesting him to bless TO6411.
I wrote to Pope Benedict not on the grounds of my religous beliefs but on the grounds that I felt The Catholic Church had a duty to address the issue of refugees arriving in Europe in this way.
That the Catholic Church could be much more pro-active in promoting integration in Southern Europe and beyond. To date these journeys hardly had been given a mention by the Catholic Church through the Press. I wrote to Pope Benedict through 'Migrantes Assoiciation'. The Pope had agreed to bless her but then he stepped down.
'Migantes' explained that who ever took his place would probably carry out any requests that he had agreed too. They suggested I write to Papa Francesco just to be certain. I did so and Papa Francesco had also confirmed he would he was very interested too.
In the meantime the priest of Lampedusa in March independently asked The Pope to visit Lampedusa. He also gave an interview on Vatican Radio. Knowing full well about my request but not wanting to mention it or collaborate with TO6411 in anyway.
It was obvious the local Priest wanted the Pope to come to Lampedusa over me taking my boat to Rome and that both events would not happen.
The Vatican requested a reference from The local Priest. I was told through Migrantes. Several times I visited him and asked but he was to busy for me. Very Convenient. He keep saying he didn't know anything about the project despite sending my request letter to 'Migrantes' in December. He also had received several emails and Press Releases and had been aware of my project for two years.
Of course they were in a hurry for me to leave when I did, hence the questioning 'quando departo, quando departo' for a week before I left. How arrogant and mean spirited I thought. That he just excluded the whole project for his own satisfaction and also the wishes of two Popes.
I realised that I had just been totally humiliated. I decided I would organise my car and trailer to be put on the ferry out of Lampedusa. I felt betrayed but not only by the priest.
The current Commander of the Port had made life with To6411 as difficult as possible. By refusing to let me keep the boat in his harbour. So To6411 completely dried out sitting baking in the sun in a yard from April to October 2012. Creating a huge amount of work for me as the wood had opened up so much. I had to fill all the cracks it took weeks.
Then he tried to use all his powers to block my departure. Despite TO6411 being British registered, insured and with all the correct safety equipment. Since leaving Lampedusa people have been completely horrified by this attitude as I am, looking back.
The current Mayor showed no interest whatsoever. Only to claim that TO6411 had nothing to do with her island. More on this in the history of TO6411 when finally edited.
These island officials didn't see any value or want to respect this humanitarian project on any level. I guess it wasn't in their interests too. Their interests lie in Public appearance, EU Funding and The Nobel Peace Prize.
Hence leaving at 5.30 am with no public farewell. Despite having lots of friends in Lampedusa having lived there since last September.
It felt very strange to be treated with such indifference. I had made two previous exhibitions about Lampedusa. I first visited the island back in November 2010. The first exhibition was fisherman story telling of there role at sea with migrants. The second exhibition was dedicated to the locals who rescued migrants from a boat that had sank off the island on 8th May 2011. Both exhibitions were very positive about Lampedusa and the local people.
My umbilical cord with this island had just been severed in a very brutal way.
|View of Palermo Harbour from the boat.|
I got up early skipped breakfast and was ready to leave at 8.00am. I made it out of Palermo harbour following a huge ship. Just out of the harbour entrance I spotted a tiny dingy which I was heading for and luckily spotted about 20 meters after checking round T06411's blind spot if you navigate standing in a certain position. I gave myself a freight and realised I should of got a espresso inside of me. I set up the GPS and it was time to head for Cefalu.
A friend in London Richard Crow had said it was good stop. Caterina in Trapani had asked her father if he knew any one there who could help with a mooring. She called and said she had arranged a free space. Great a good start to the day.
I arrived about 2.00pm. The moorings were around the headland from the town. The spot was fabulous lush green scattered with clumps of orange yellow and pink bougainvillea and hibiscus. Blue blue sea crystal clear with beautiful villas and cottages squashed into the green like currents in a bun. Caterina's friend came out on his outboard and guided me in. .
We tied up and he showed me the way to the beech front cafe a cabin selling pasta dishes. I sat down and within minutes arrived a big full plate of gnocchi and a cold beer. . Happy days… I went back to the boat and had a nap.
After a few hours I got up and made my way into town. A maze of small streets intense and touristy but aimed at Italian tourists so it wasn't depressing tacky like a resort town aimed at British tourists. The church was magnificent against a backdrop of soft coloured stone buildings and dark dark green vegetation. I found a restaurant up some back alley, ate and headed to the boat.
|TO6411 in Cefalu Harbour.|
|Fabulous Harbour Cafe and Ormeggiatori.|
|View from archway of town beech.|
I left Cefalu around 8.30 am and headed for Capo D'Orlando arriving around 3.00pm. My navigation skills were in a ropey mode. I checked my pilot book and I had made a diagram of the port but could not find it. I went up and down a stretch of coast. Then according to the gps I was spot on but still no sign of a harbour. I could see a few buoys and a small wooden building.
There were a few shallow spots round here so I wasn't keen to go in to far. All I could see was a huge long wall but no gap ( I later learnt after passing this spot on the train that I was within meters of the entrance to a small mooring platoon but there were no yacht masts which is what I have come to rely on. only power boats).
So I decided to head to the next place, huge mistake……..I was already feeling tired. TO6411 requires you total attention she is totally high maintenance with no time to chill out or she goes off course in a dramatic way ( a bit like her owner…) unless your are on the helm. No auto pilot just a piece of elastic that Bernard taught me about back in Trapani .
Sicilian fisherman use this method on very small boats. A piece of elastic tied onto both mooring blocks at the stern then wound round the rudder stick.
I went on to the next bay, only mooring buoys and the next and the next. It was getting late and I was worried. I had no dingy and so desperately needed a platoon. It began to get dark I promised myself and everyone else I wouldn't do this but it was happening and very real. I had no experience of night time navigation alone. I started to fret and get anxious and kept telling myself it would be okay. It was getting hard to see the Gps as it is positioned on the wheel house a good two meters from the helm.
Around 10.00pm after 14 hours of navigation I saw the lights of Tonnarella in the distance. It was pitch black at this stage, I had turned all the navigation lights on. but my eyes were so tired the shoreline was just a blur of lights. I couldn't see anything no port lights no obvious signs of a harbour. i didn't know the coast. I was stressing about underwater obstacles I kept trying not to cry my eyes just kept welling up.
I crawled along the shore finally spotting port and starboard harbour lights but they were really tucked away but my relief was immense I made my sorry way over to a fuel station where a guy started waving he agreed to let me moor on the pumps i was grateful to him and for stopping. He said I could stay over for free and take a shower if I wanted. Joy. I tied up and went to find something to eat and drink all that was open was this truly hideous plastic looking Disney resort hotel complex with rows of Terra-cotta concrete new builds. Like a arriving in a Miami sub division. I walked a round dazed in this other world of super yachts and plastic houses. I finally found my way in to a resort the sort that some aspiration humans spent there lives dreaming of.
Kids karaoke is in full swing with a paedophile looking DJ in his mid-fifties and a bunch of kids jumping up and down on an outside dance floor. I would have been happy with what they probably would have sold.' Breeze block sandwiches' but the kitchen was closed. I take a beer and head back to the boat. She sits quietly tied up all is OK.
I wake up a new man is at the pumps wanting to charge me €30.00 for the pleasure of tying up and yes, he wanted it then and there. I protested explaining his colleague had let me stay there for free. He stood his ground and wanted €30.00 . I stood my ground explained again and refused to pay.. Finally he said 'We understand your project you can go"…..I thought in my head 'well thanks a lot' To6411 and I left happy never to be returning.
We set of for Milazzo which was close by about 2 hours max .
On arrival still totally exhausted from the night before I get some fuel it was very expensive in the Disney style resort. I cruise around the harbour looking for a place not many people are around so I attach TO6411 to a concrete island platoon still feeling totally shattered. A guy rocked up in a small outboard offering me a berth, I took his offer and followed him over to a very sweet marina called Marina S.Maria Maggiore. He guilds me in the wind is vicious and poor old TO6411 ended up halfway up the pontoon. She came off with the next wave a bit bruised and I was in a bit of shock. I tied up and dropped like a stone on the beanbag completely finished.
I was woken up a few hours later by some men working with a generator next to the boat. I went to the office to show my papers. They told me I could have the berth for free as they had seen my project. They handed me a burgee flag and two dozen bottles of water. Joy…..I had enough energy to go and grab a sandwich then crashed out. TO6411 is an exhausting and very challenging boat but I love her.
I leave Milazzo in the morning to go and pick up my car from Porto Empedocle an uninspiring port in southern Sicily. My friends in Lampedusa had put the car on the ferry for me. I drive back to Milazzo and arrive at 3.00am.
Spent the day sorting out the car and trailer organising equipment and articles to be used on future stops. I left Milazzo at around 4.00pm to drive to Palermo to catch the overnight ferry to Genoa. To drop the car and trailer in Cuneo.
Wow what a fantastic drive. Sicilly should seriously think about a Grand prix style race through here. The scenery and setting make the Pacific Highway from Los Angeles to San Francisco seem totally Lame. You cut through cliffs and mountains along winding tunnels and then pop out to one beautiful vista after another. The landscape is very mountainous with villages perched precariously on outcrops. With small seaside settlements way below. With small roads careering off to them.
I arrive in Palermo just in time. I am the last car to board the ferry after one of the tyre's on the trailer popped at the services. Late and dis-oriented I am greeted on the ferry by a orange clad jump suit man yelling at me in Sicilian. I yelled back finally sick of macho men in this neck of the woods patronising me. He looked really shocked obviously not used to a women who stands up for herself.
I parked the car and stomped up to the ferry reception. The staff said I looked exhausted and upgraded my cabin from a shared internal cabin with three women to a two berth with a porthole. Perhaps they were thinking of the other women! Anyway I was happy to be alone. As it was the first time in a bed in a space bigger then two square meters since leaving Lampedusa.
I slept all day arriving in Genoa around 6.00pm and drove straight to Cuneo. To a hotel and a place to put the car and trailer. Arrive in Cuneo at the hotel B & B Eremes super friendly place with a huge garage, great. As I was going to have to take the car to Nice. I go for dinner in the small village in a restaurant I ope for a curry just for a change. Fabulous and delicious with some local beer followed by a locally made tangerine liquor, gorgeous.
Flew from Genoa back to Palermo. Got the train back to Milazzo stunning train journey along the coast. Good to see the boat again, I missed her but it was also good to have a break and be off her for a couple of nights.
Gorgeous Milazzo which has taken number one place in places I have visited in Sicily. Very laid back with beautiful architecture and not to touristy, it has its own thing happening. It has a gorgeous palm tree lined promenade with wooden shuttered buildings facing the sea in pinks and oranges. Fisherman sell there daily catch from the back of there boats. The people I meet were all super cool.with a really good attitude to the boat. No problems with TO6411 and the way she looks. Wow it makes such a difference.
Helped of course by the super nice staff in the Marina S.Maria Maggiore and there gorgeous vivacious Christiana the manager. Who thought, I was nuts but loved the project and was totally cheerful and a delightful host. Cool intelligent place.
I was hesitant to crossing the tail end of the Messina straights. The sea was very odd after about five miles out of Milazzo not choppy but a little like going over very soft hills. You really had a sense of the depth the sea had a strange pitting on top as if it was raining upside down. I felt a little un-nerved by it. Not particularly comfortable. I just tried to relax.
Next thing I hear a lot of squeaking I was worried had I remembered to grease the stern shaft ? It didn't sound good. Then splashing and something heavy knocked the boat. I immediately jumped up and went to the bow worried I had missed an isolated danger beacon or a fishing create with some huge net attached to it.
I realised I was surrounded by a huge pod of around 16 dolphins. They were within a meter of the boat, everywhere at the bow at the stern at port and starboard. I was worried I was going to hit one of them. It brought tears to my eyes, nearly out of sight of land and all these dolphins squeaking and jumping. Quite an experience when you are alone. I got to Tropea around 9.00pm and went straight to sleep.
|Marina S.Maria Maggiore|
|View from Marina S.Maria Maggiore.|
I got up and sorted out the boat. Took my washing into town getting a lift in the car from the neighbouring boat. He advised the moorings were free in Tropea at the moment. Great.
Tropea town is set high up on the cliff edge of a cape.The buildings veer straight up from the cliff edge. Quite spectacular. Its very touristy with many tourist buses but picturesque and ferries leave to Stromboli from here.
Took myself off for a nice swim which refreshing in the heat. i came back to the boat got some odd looks from local passers by. I don't think they approved of TO6411 and so I decided her and I would leave first thing in the Morning.
Left Tropea around 8.00am heading for Cetraro. I was two miles out of the harbour and this inflatable came roaring up with an elderly guy and two guys in their teens. They were American and came to congratulate me on my project and had already looked up the website. I had waved at them in the fabulous ketch on the way out of the harbour. He announced he wanted to donate to my project and promptly pulled out a huge wedge of Euros. In a totally American approach that made me quietly giggle he said. ' Here is €100.00 from me, here is €50.00 on behalf of the harbour, here is €50.00 on behalf of my crew and here is another €50.00 from my grandsons. They sat with big McClain smiles. He just gave me €250.00 asked for my card and speed off. Super nice and the first donation to the project. I was over the moon, what a guy. Great start to the day.
Long day at sea arrive at Cetraro at around 4.00pm. Fantastic port and staff. Helped me tie up. I meet some locals in the marina and headed out to for pizza at Hotel Carruba which is decorated in a slightly David Shrigley style created by the owner an artist who has spent years creating his paradise.
Went to explore Cetraro town. In the afternoon worked on this. They invited me for a swim with a couple of guys from the night before and two other guys and a women. We speed out of the harbour to a isolated rocky inlet.
A rather dubious looking chap in his mid-fifties with a huge super yacht back in the port started with, So tell us about you boat???? Ummmmm didn't like this……………….
They started asking multitudes of strange questions about TO6411. Where is she registered? Why there? How much is she insured for? What is its value? How much did I earn ? Endless questions about the motor, odd questions…….I started feeling uneasy. I decide to play their game claiming that TO6411 is worth 800 euros.
I asked why all these questions? This is like the Spanish inquisition.
I felt very very uneasy and asked to go back to the port. They then insisted on taking loads of pictures of really odd things like the accelerator lever and the rudder. I insisted they stop.
They had insisted I go to dinner with them that night. I cancelled the invitation claiming I didn't feel good. They left very subdued.
The whole experience was tense and odd. Something wasn't right. one gets that feeling in life sometimes having lived in London for twenty three years. I started to think wild thoughts perhaps they are trying to get me away from the boat to steal it.
I decided to leave very early the next morning. To go for a long long distance.
Left Cetraro early around 7.00am as planned and thought I would make a great leap to somewhere else. Acciaroli.
Got to Acciaroli around 3.00pm. Very tired as I had left Cetraro with no breakfast. First impressions of Acciaroli very sweet port and town. Total mixture of fishing boats, super yachts and every other craft imaginable. Really well designed port with super nice staff. Fabulous facilities. Had an early night.
Sorted out the boat and domestic chores.
One of the omeviggorie had advised me yesterday after my delinquent attempts at dropping my anchor that the boat needed more weight in the stern. So I ran around town to find some large water containers to fill and stick in the stern. That night ate some great calimari fritters and crashed out totally exhausted.
|Local Fishing Boat.|
Left Acciaroli early and headed for Amalfi. Got to Amalfi around 6.00pm, to long at sea. I had always wanted to visit Amalfi. Amalfi quickly went from looking gorgeous from the sea to becoming like hell within an hour.
'Kicked out of Amalfi.'
At 6.00pm after 8 hours navigation I was literally kicked out of the harbour. I went in there to find a space and there was nothing on offer.
Everywhere in ports and harbours has places for boats in transit where you can stay for free in overnight, not here. They told me to go to the outer harbour. So I anchored.
The tourist boats, ferries and motor boats didn't like TO6411 and tried to swamp the boat with me on it. Swamping was bad due to being anchored. Well out of the ferry lanes. The boats were coming up really close, people can tell its a migrant boat. I was really scared as it was so bad I couldn't even get to pull up the anchor.
Next the coast guard turn up in there boat ordering my papers which I show, I ask them where I can stay that is safe as I am a women sailor alone and I am tired, I explain the project. They ignore my words hand me back my papers in a fishing net and speed off in there boat. I felt they were cold, indifferent and cruel in my requests for some direction. From a women navigating a lone. When Coast guard behaves in this way you feel very venerable. I kept thinking if anything happens to me would those men care? It was a horrible horrible feeling. I was also shocked as my experience with them had been very positive to date.
Finally I manage to raise my anchor and head back out to sea exhausted and in tears. I look at the cape and Capri the wind is high and me and To6411 are being really tossed around. I am exhausted. Finally I see a couple of big boats and head into a tiny harbour I had to get out of open water and fast.
I see a fabulous beech spot round the corner from Amalfi later I learn it is called Positano and drop my anchor again. Two guys come across in a boat and say not here. 'I nearly have kittens' then they said no here on this mooring line. They can see I am finished and help me moor the boat. A elderly very animated cheerful guy introduces himself as Guido Rispoli who runs da Ferdinando beech bar. He invites me with them to join for a beer. I go with them to his beech bar called and a bunch of Londoners are sitting there. I explain what has just happened to me. Both Brits and Italians were disgusted by the lack of care for a lone women navigator back in Amalfi. Amalfi may look pretty but I won't ever return. They really all get together and spoil me with pizza's, beers and lots of support. The bar is super cool in turquoise and white with a bamboo roof. Guido has a lot of style
|Bar de Fernando.|
Wake up in this gorgeous ex-swinging sixties spot. Famous then for music festivals. Guido sailed over to my boat with Toast and Marmalade and coffee. What a complete darling. Exhausted after yesterday. I Spent the day in the bar da Ferdinando working on this blog with swims in-between. Local Journalist from the 'Positano news' came to interview me about yesterdays events in Amalfi which I wanted to forget quickly. The chief had cooked some delicious pasta and clams followed by a few beers. Great day totally chilled, Love the vibe of this set up it totally rocks.
Vimo had offered to make me bacon and eggs last night. So started the day haven eaten a massive fry up the first in eight months. Fantastic. Spent the day fishing, no luck, dips in the gorgeous blue sea. In the evening had a big communal dinner at Da Ferdinando, fantastic freshly caught fish by Claria's father and super barbecue steaks. Followed by a jamming season by a local folk singer playing guitar. Really needed a couple of days just relaxing.
|The cone of Positano.|
Had a quick look at Positano town sweet place but oh soooooo touristy. The buildings all vear up to a cone. Left Positano and all its fabulous locals around 10.00am heading for the island of Procida.
Arrived in Procida around 3.00pm and chilled out in a mooring on the south of the island. It was blowing in a bit so decided to head for the port. Lifting my manual anchor of 15 kg's, leaves one totally trashed. The port was busy with locals and a few tourists the omeggeriore were super cool and let me have a space for the night in their super nice port.
I went and explored the town really is in a fifties time warp, keep it that way. The town is typical narrow streets and the whole place is slightly shambolic but in the best possible way. Procida reminds me of Lampedusa. Local musician were playing outside the tobacconists on the church square. Locals were busy enjoying a night out and place had a great local feel.
|Local Band Procida.|
Left Procida to head for Formia.
Formia had a lot of Government officials as there seemed to be a few military schools close by. Stopped for the night all a bit uneventful. Terrible time trying to dock in the visitors mooring due to head on wind, no facilities as such. Felt a bit depressed. I felt grimy after the day. The Coast Guard came by and were very sweet in the morning, that cheered me up.
Sometimes with this trip you can feel very isolated. The sea is strange to spend days on. You can get to a port and find it difficult to communicate weather in Italian or British. The sea puts your mind in another space and dimension. You, the rubble of the engine, the compass, miles of water. To much time to think about things that crop up in your mind that you haven't thought about for years.
A psycho tried to kill me and the boat today by circling us in the middle of nowhere. Really Scary. Got his picture as he speed off.
|Psycho in Power Boat.|
Got up, grabbed a sandwich and headed for Nettuno. Nettuno marina was huge. The women was very sweet and said I could stay for no charge.Moored up and meet my neighbour Vincent a friendly chap from Rome. Gave me the low down on the place.
Got up early and potted around the town on my bike. Nettuno reminded me of Bournemouth. Its strange how a place can remind you of somewhere totally doesn't appear to have a link. I guess it was just the large sea side resort feeling to the town.
Left Nettuno and headed for Rome. Got to Ostia,Roma around 3.00pm arriving at the Porto Turistico Di Roma. Big mistake. This place was huge, very modern and had a slight military camp feel to it. Miles of concrete and Power boats and theme type restaurants. I wanted to set up a museum in Rome but despite endless requests to people. I didn't get any responses. You can only get as far as Fiumicino unless you lift the boat out and put it back in further up.
Also this marina was private and wanted to charge full price on my humanitarian project. This was the first time since leaving Lampedusa anyone wanted to charge me. What was worse was that this was obviously a multi million Euro development with plenty of mooring fee's coming in. Everywhere else had been super tolerant of the project and what it was trying to achieve. That is what counts.
Leave in the morning and head to Civitavecchia, arrive late afternoon. This place looked huge very industrial and full of huge empty cruise ships. Big red and white chimneys filled the skyline. It didn't look great. That out of the corner of my eye I spotted a sign Riva Di Traiano Marina. Headed in there full of yachts always a good sign. There were far fewer power boats it seemed north of Rome. The sea was much more tranquil, delight.
I was meet by a bloke it a small outboard that lead me to my spot for the night. The marina was modern but well designed and human in scale unlike Porto Turistico, Rome.
Had a peaceful night as no fishing boats rumbling past first thing in the morning here. In the morning my neighbour came by and we had coffee. he introduced me to the women in charge Tiziana as I needed an adjustment on my control lever as it kept slipping out of forward and reverse. I had being tying it with a piece of rope . It really needed fixing. Tiziana sent the yard mechanic to the boat that quickly resolved the problem with a grinder to make a new gap for it to lock in to. Great that would make life so much easier. I had a quick coffee and went to pay. They didn't charge for the night or the work. Total darlings.
Left and headed for Santa Stepheno .
|TO6411 and her big neighbours at Riva Di Traiano Marina.|
Arrived in San Stepheno. The place was really busy with boats ferries and tourists. I was dazed it had been a long hot day on the boat. I went for a long walk around town to think about where to head next either over to Isle Giglo or stay on the mainland coast. The port had fantastic fish stalls stretching along the promenade. I came cross some rowing teams with the moist exquisite canoes with huge heavy oars. The men in the rowing teams had biceps like Ukraine body builders. The streets that ran behind the port were narrow with cobbles and tall narrow houses to match.
Pottered around the port and brought some supplies. I headed to the Port Office. They liked TO6411 and the project and gave us a free space which is always greatly appreciated. I decided overnight that I would head for Isle Giglo. I wanted to see if it was possible to take photos of the Costa Concordia and TO6411. I could see these images would be really poignant. The Migrant boat and the Cruise Ship both involved rescue and salvage totally 'Vincini Lontani' distant worlds and opposite extremes. Yet so similar.
I went to ask the Guardia Costiera and they advised I wrote to Rome and Giglo to seek permission. I thought I wouldn't hear back before tomorrow so I would head to Giglo anyway first thing. Went back to the boat and emailed the requests. Sat zoning out watching the cleaning teams polishing there mini Super Yachts. This is done daily teams of men with dusters and cleaning materials endlessly polishing to mirror finish. Meticulous to detail. Even down to making sure the boats matching named doormats are vacuumed. At night they are lit like interiors from the Ideal home show. Meals are served on the deck whilst the passersby stand dreaming of owning such a statement. It reminds me very much of Mexicans. The Latino need to show your wealth.
That evening I was bored so headed to the aquarium looking at local Mediterranean sea life swim round in circles in there display tanks. The simple life of a fish.
Get up early to head for Giglo. arrived at Giglo around 12.00pm. Wow, a total Gem of an island. Gorgeous little port set in a turquoise bay. Palm tree lined front, Colourful buildings littered with bougainvillea and hibiscus.In a backdrop of steep hills covered in olive and Cyprus trees. Head to see the harbormaster, lovely man very accommodating and totally gets what I want to do and gives me a mooring. Happy for me to go out with a couple of his men to the site to take the images. We arrange to meet at 5.00pm. lunch in a fabulous Deli with great salads which I have been desperate for. As totally reliant on port food as no facilities at all on board.
After lunch I go for a swim in a gorgeous little bay round the corner of the village flanked with steps and cottages. The people on Giglo are all super friendly ask lots of questions about TO6411 they make me feel really at home. This place rocks. I decide to go back to the boat and strip it back as much as possible to create a contrast with Costa Concordia. Take off her flags and remove all my stuff from visibility. She quickly becomes depersonalised and goes back to looking much like how I found her.
I meet the Guardia Costiera at 5.00pm and head out to the Costa Concordia on our boats. As they need to act as a guide. There is nothing more unattractive then when cheaply built modern structures are in a state of rot and decay whether office blocks, housing, factories or ships.
The Costa Concordia is no exception, a great white half submerged dinosaur. Collapsed on the rocks as you enter the harbour, with long patches of rust in waves and rust drip marks against the white. The metal windows smeared in salt. Buckled and weather beaten. A terrible eye soar. I feel deeply sorry for the people of Giglo having to look at this every day for the last few years. A hugely ugly invasive monument of tragedy created by a total imbecile. What was that captain doing?
Never mind the loss of life. The whole thing felt totally intrusive on this sweet gentle island.
I started steering the boat towards the Costa Concordia. I felt deeply uncomfortable. It felt very different to the boats salvaged in Lampedusa as the migrant boats in the graveyard had been brought a shore intact with the migrants on board. The migrants go to a centre and the boats go to the yard. Many migrants are rescued from sinking boats at sea which obviously aren't salvaged. So you never actually come face to face with the boats of great tradegy. I felt very uneasy slightly nervous.
I called over to the Guardia Costiera and asked if they could drive TO6411 close to Costa Concordia and I take photos from their boat, they agreed and I think were happier not to have me roaming around the site. The site is buoyed with security and huge lifting barges, all very industrial and a huge operation. We swapped boats I thought he would be fine with my boat but he found the controls really difficult, I felt bad I hadn't explained very fully. On TO6411 the control level is back to front. So you push the lever backwards and she goes forwards and forwards is backwards. I assumed that a Coast Guard could drive any boat but he was really struggling. At the same time a ferry was arriving and was blowing his horn madly to avoid a collision. It lightened the whole experience a little as quietly the situation was a little comical.
The ferry realised it was a coast guard trying to control my boat and also calmed down with his persistent use of his horn. At that point we all headed back to the port. The images were interesting and spoke volumes of difference from each vessel.
|TO6411 and Costa Concordia.|
Time to head for Elba. I check the weather and a thunder storm is due tonight / tomorrow morning. So I book a place in the harbour run by the ormeggiatori and Guardia Costiera.The passage to Elba is quiet and non-eventful. I arrive around six and radio for my booking which they cannot find any data on. By this time I am in the harbour and the women on the other end of the radio is still trying to locate my booking despite my emailing and phoning. I guy turns up in a dingy the ormeggiatori and says I can't even stop to wait for an answer. Tells me to wait in the Military Zone next to a catamaran. This harbour is busy with ferries and other boats so its not easy pottering round and round whilst they sort this mess out. I head over to the Military zone. I am told I can't wait there either. Meet by a group of five men grimacing at me with hands on there hips.
I am totally frustrated and pissed off they point me in the direction of the outer harbour and tell me to anchor off out there. Just what I didn't want due to no lightening protection. With a storm due in a few hours.
Head out and all the buoys are taken, a women waves from a small marine. She says I can moor in the yacht club overnight. She would contact the manager and let him know. She looked like she had sailed the seven seas in her life. Louise had indeed sailed to every corner of the globe for the last eighteen years. She invited me to dinner with her family on her boat. It was good to meet a fellow women sailor the first one in Italy to date.
I had already had enough of Elba and wanted to see the back of the place. In the morning I work up and a disgruntled elderly man walked up the platoon. Told me to move right away. I explained about Louise, but he didn't want to know. The storm was now looming and I gestured about it, he still stood looking pig headed. Looking fierce, oh dear, another male masochist of the sea, to many by now to count. So I left depressed and anxious back out to the harbour found a mooring and the storm set in, lightening flickering around the boat. Once the storm had pasted I set out of Elba around 2.00pm and headed for Cala De Medici.
I sent a letter of complaint to The Guardia Costiera about my booking and hence being forced to anchor exposed to the lightening. Will not be returning to Elba in the near future. Its so strange this trip one day fabulous people great times the next day total shit. The day got worst much worst. around 5.00 pm the wind started to really kick in I was heading NW and the wind was coming strongly from the West. The waves were really pushing on to my port side. I continued and the wind and waves grow and grow.
Decided to head for a harbour in the direction of the wind West of course. The Gps had decided to go on 'annual leave' it was so windy now at 14 that the Radar Reflector blow off. I was getting really worried. I was in deep trouble. So I decided the only thing to do was to try to surf the boat into the nearest port San Vincenzo. Which I did, I got very close to calling channel 16 but thought if I did they would rescue me and leave the boat. I made it in.
People came to the boat when I arrived asking how I managed to surf the boat in like that from 2 miles off shore. I said it was very scary, never again. My arms were totally trashed
Great little town.
Head off for Livorno quite a long way so go early. The wind has dyed down so a relaxed trip. My arms are very painful and feel as if they were wrenched from there sockets yesterday and my eyes feel very milky. I don't feel great at all. At least I got a hot shower.
I arrive in Livorno and decide to stop for a couple of nights. The ormeggiatori are super friendly. I get in about six. My eyes feel like they are scratched.
I wake up and find it difficult to see out of my right eye. My arms hurt like hell still. I decide I need to see a doctor. The ormeggiatori say I need to go to the hospital. They give me a bike and a map. The hospital is very 1940's in parts. I head to the optician who quickly diagnoses conjunctivitis and explains I must rest my eyes and gives me some drops. Opticians are a very odd breed deeply obsessional, lacking communication skills, very anal. Anyone that spends there day with an eyeball I guess would be.
By now it is lunch and I spot a Chinese restaurant great something different, not had any Chinese duck for a long time. A take a cycle ride around the city set amounts canals. I like this place it has a good feel to it despite being a huge port.
|Canal side building Livorno.|
Hit the bar in the port run by a very jolly man and his wife and there bad tempered daughter. He is very sweet and gives me a couple of beers. The bar is full of Super yacht staff in there polo shirts and chino shorts. Can't bare the super yacht lot. People who think they are sailors and have never even sailed in a real ocean. the whole scene makes my stomach churn. I remember as a teenager growing up in Auckland hanging out on the docks on Sundays. Huge American cruise ships would roll up. Out would flood elderly American couples dressed head to toe as captains and sailors. They were just too funny for words. As I am dosing off a huge cruise ship arrives. I fall asleep listening to Y.M.C.A blaring from the ships Disco.
I wake up and the huge can of trash that arrived last night has left with its contents. Peace and Quite.
I took a cruise once for a week with a boyfriend who was playing in a poker tournament on it. I must say the cruise was deeply depressing. Enforced Joviality from the stuff, disgusting overcooked buffets, full of people who dress for diner but it was more School canteen. Forced to sit with people you have nothing in common with. It felt like a prison. I nearly throw myself off, feeling death is better then this.
Sort out the boat a bit, cycle around town, buy a new radar reflector.
Decide to head off to Sista Lavente. I arrive around six not sure where to head in the harbour but a guy points towards the fisherman. Its been a long day and I am knackered. The fisherman help me tie up. They are very impressed with how far the boat has come. Now I know I have come some way. Respect from fisherman to me is 'creme de la creme' the real people of the sea fisherman and coast guards. The captain hands me a plastic bag containing bread, packet of salami, tin of tuna and a couple of oranges. I dig in I am staving. The whole packet of salami is gone in seconds and bread and oranges. They are a Sicilian crew and spend half there time in Sista Levente and half there time near Agrigento. They tried fishing near Lampedusa once but said they got chased off and threatened by the local fisherman.
I wanted to get up and head north. Grabbed a coffee and tried to start up. The water was not being sucked up to the motor. The fisherman arrived in seconds to help and investigate. We tried everything. Checking the sea cock, pushing sticks down the pipes. We noticed the strainer had come off. After much debate we decided I needed a new impeller and a supplier. No luck on a Saturday afternoon. They invited me on there boat for lunch and we ate a huge seafood pasta. The cabin had a huge table lots of newspapers. an old T.V flickered away, pin up calendar girls on the wall and a big Madonna in the corner. Fabulous. One by one they left for there siesta.
I headed back to TO6411 and decided it was time to investigate further. On with the bikini and snorkel to check the water inlet and the stainer situation. Within my being in the water for five minutes The Guardia Costiera arrive and tell me I can't be under my boat doing what I am doing in Italy its forbidden. They said I have to get a commercial diver. I think that is going to cost a pretty penny. Next thing a dive instructor turns up. The end of the quay had been cordoned off. He explained an elderly couple had gone out diving and the man had a heart attack and died. I had noticed them in the morning and had thought to myself they look very old to be diving they were in there 80's I suspect. It must be quite a peaceful way to die looking at fish.
He offered to take a look at the in-pipe. After a few minutes he popped up out of the water and said the strainer was definitely gone. He offered to go find a mechanic. I waited a couple of hours and with no signs of anyone went to ask the Guardia Costiera man who was hanging out if he know anyone. He gestured to a big man built like a horse butcher. The local mechanic came and checked and the boat needed a new impeller. He offered to pick one up and fit it in the morning.
I went into town and walked about. Sistra Levente town is really sweet, the harbour on one side and houses build right on a sandy bay on the other. A festival was in full swing celebrating sardines, great atmosphere with a local band and a huge barbecue smoking away.
The mechanic arrived around 9.00am. The boat was good again and he didn't want to charge the project. Another angel who understands what I am trying to do. I have a quick coffee and say goodbyes to the fisherman busy sorting fish. Back to the boat switch her on and she runs smooth as a whistle. Beautiful sail along the coast passing The Cinque Terre.
Tonight we be my last night in Italy I aim for Loano. I arrive in Loano around seven. The place looks very expensive. The ormeggiatori arrive in there outboards to bring me in. They treat the boat as if its wrapped in cotton wool. I ask straight away for a transit place. They say don't worry they think it will be fine and I can stay for free. They explain its a private port with high charges. Another soulless modern marina full of soulless modern motor boats.
I wake up early and decide to try to make it over the border. I go to the office as requested. I tell them I had asked for a transit space and what had been discussed the previous evening. The Captain of the port who had way to much Botox injected into his bright orange face. Complete with badly bleached hair. A male version of Sylvester Stallone's mother. Wanted to charge the full rate and was obviously not the type of person who would have the slightest idea of a humanitarian project or why someone would be attempting to do it. I suggested he put up a big sign saying PRIVATE PORT so other poor souls didn't get caught in his fortress of capitalism.
On the way back to the boat a couple of other disgruntled customers were moaning that they also felt ripped off they had wanted to come back and fit a battery explaining to these people that it would take around an hour. This place wanted to charge them for the time. Unbelievable, very depressing place. Goodbye.
The day was good at sea. I arrive in Menton, France around 5.00pm. I am really happy for a change. Menton looks familiar I have been here before maybe inter-railing when I was at college. The French Coast Guard ran the port and gave me a great spot. They were really helpful and told me about what to look out for, where to stop. I was hungry so went out for 'steak fritte' with Franck from one of their team. Had a great night and fantastic food hitting a local bar later in the evening.
Wake up a bit hung over, Franck can sink a few. I find croissants tied on to the bow of the boat. Left with compliments of Coast Guard, France. What a lovely welcome. Really sweet. Have a quick shower and buy a french courtesy flag. Go and say goodbye and thank you to Franck. Franck introduces me the harbour master Jean-Michel who say my night was free and give me a huge bundle of books and guides.
Start off to Port St Jeanne thought it may be interesting to add Monaco to the list of countries so I head there first. Wow quite a sight from the sea so many buildings so crammed together. The outer harbour is busy with jet skis and super yachts and those big containers of trash mentioned earlier of course. I meander around taking some images helicopter circles above the boat checking it out. I head for the palace a magical building set into the cliff. I take more images of TO6411 and the palace. A couple more very sophisticated little black helicopters join the first one. Its busy up there !
|The Palace and TO6411.|
After two hours he finally finds me a suitable place. I come in bow first all good and tie up. A really sweet Italian couple invite on their boat for an aperitif. I tell them about the project and that I write to Berlusconi requesting a migrant boat and they claim to know Berlusconi personally and will tell him I am doing fine. It made me giggle.
Take myself off for a pile of moules and Fritte in a local cafe.
Today I will potter out and see where I end up. The waves are quite big and the wind is blowing in the wrong direction so its slow. A late start as it rained heavily first thing. I was woken up at seven by a team of super yacht cleaners cleaning every boat around mine. Then they wanted me to turn the boat round they weren't happy with the bow stick so close to the platoon. I said no I was going in a hour. Then the five of them wanted to move the boat away from the platoon making it very difficult for me to get on and off. At this point I lost it with them proclaiming I had really had enough of feeling bullied by men like this. I had felt pushed around a lot by men on this trip and I was fed up with it. So few women seem to have boats in this macho world.
Around seven I arrive in a little bay and anchor for the night. I had decided I had had enough of dealing with harbours. Great decision lovely and peaceful no one hassling me. I row in to shore and have a salad Niciose and a beer.
Go for an early dip. Wind is still strong so I hug the coast. The French coast is quite rocky so you have to be really careful. Many buoys and isolated danger beacons. The sea is very choppy as well making the boat very unsteady. This is way more difficult in comparison to Italian waters.
The French are definitely a nation of sailors, yachts everywhere. As plenty of wind. The power boats are now few and far between, thank goodness. Yachts are beautiful to look at, silent underway and don't pollute like motor boats. The wind is to much so I tuck into a small cove. I grab a mooring buoy anything to avoid having to use me 15 kg manual anchor and its 30 metro chain. It is so heavy to lift.
The boat still pulls on it this boat weights a huge amount as it is solid African mahogany. Just when all is good the engine stops, oh dear fouled the mooring line. A gorgeous catamaran sits close by and two guys wave and come over in a dingy to help. They are British and are super helpful and we sort it in no time. They invite me over for a beer and some home cooked curry. Wow a treat, I haven't had curry for months. ……..wife was a great cook. Really nice evening.
They check the wind, a mistral is on the way and expecting winds of up to 24 km an hour. No sailing tomorrow.
Sort out the boat. The Brits come over and we all head into town to get some supplies from a huge supermarket full of gorgeous produce. Heaven. Cheese, wine, hams, later we all head back. That night we head to a local restaurant and have a super delicious meal.
Its windy still so I wait until 1.00pm it has calmed down to 8 so its OK just for me. I head out around the rocky head and it is pretty wild. I stick really close in as I want to make it to Cassis. I love the landscape around Cassis from the sea it looks amazing. Great sandstone calanque.
It takes until 4.00pm very slow. At Cassis I am greeted by loads of power boats and tourist boats so decide to press on to Marseille just round the corner. The Gps displays a multitude of shipwrecks in Marseille harbour. The gulf of Lyon lives up to its reputation. It is a wild little trip. I stick so close in a nearly hit a number of swimming buoys. I can't make it straight across. The wind is getting worst tomorrow for this spot.
|Gulf of Lyon, Marseille.|
I get into Marseille about 6.30pm. Always loved Marseille gritty old port last time I visited. Now it has been swept up and revamped. Loads of new apartment blocks scatter the front of the harbour. The old buildings as I knew it now directly behind. I liked the old Marseille better. My arms arch again the pain gets less each time as my muscles build but it is still a bit to much.
Get up check the weather good until 4.00pm many boats are heading out. I want to get to the The Rhone off the coast now. No more big waves and less wind. I can't wait to get rid of all the salt everywhere on this boat and me and my clothes. Just for a change. The last ten days has been tough. I want some easy days.
Head out of Marseille and head for Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone. The harbour at the entrance to the Rhone is humongous with vast cargo ships all anchored out. One feels like such a midget in comparison. Its a grand sight these ships from all over the place.
|Sexy Ship in harbour close to Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone.|
Entering the canal up to Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone felt strange the water suddenly dead flat the further up you went, the wind stopped. It was so peaceful. The lock at the port was around 100 metres long. Feeling nervous I took time entering the lock. I had never single handed a lock in a boat before. I keep trying to communicate with the lock keeper on the radio but there was no response. Just a big tower with tinted windows. Bonjour Ecliose Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone, Bonjour Ecliose Port-St-Louis-du-Rhone, nothing………Then 'go ahead' it was really difficult to get the boat in the exact place to tie to the vertical hydraulic points I manage and the bow took off in the other direction. It was impossible to control the boat and tie up. By the time I managed it the lock was full and the gates opened. I felt like such an idiot. I was so nervous and anxious and in such a sweat. The British locks pump the water in really fast. I expecting this. The French locks the water raises slowly and not at such an aggressive pace. I knew I would really have to get my head around this as I had 400 locks to pass through.
|Bye Bye Sea.|
|Begining of the Rhone.|
I didn't sleep to well last night woke up around six. The boat hadn't moved either for a good way or to make the situation worst. I tried to move it back of fourth no joy. The water was flowing fast around the boat. I thought of getting in the dingy and trying to pull the boat but the dingy only had a 2hp motor.
Thoughts ran through my head of .....well so you manage to move the boat, and then it moves swiftly downstream and you are trying to get back on board. What if another boat turns up? What if it smashes into a channel marker ? or the large protruding steel structure a few hundred meters away.
Another thought check the depth of the water maybe you can push it off with my mooring pole. Tried this the current was so strong one couldn't get the stick to go vertically down. No luck there.
Jump out and push I knew the water depth was around 1.3 as the was the depth below water line of the boat, but what if the boat took off and I couldn't manage to get back on.
So all these thoughts had to be quickly squashed. I pondered and pondered and racked my brains.
A huge barge turned up and I waved he just waved back. He couldn't help anyway he was to big and of course if he had helped he too could get grounded. I realised no one was going to risk coming over to me. He made some wash and the boat moved slightly but not nearly enough.
Another two hours went by another boat a motor boat this time making more wash, still not enough. Another hour went by and a barge and large motor boat came by, yes, yes, yes,
I started the boat and needed to accelerate their exactly when there wash came. A double wash started a few metres behind them both. I knew I had a tiny window of opportunity at this this was the first time all morning there had been two boats together out of a total of five. It was now 11.30am.
The first wave rolled under the boat I accelerated forward but the boat dug in. I tried to reverse and action. Even in low acceleration a lot of loud bumps. Shit, what if I put a hole in the hull. The bumping stopped. I was getting close to the posts I put her in forward and turned her around.
Another large thud then forward smoothly. I knew from before testing with the mooring pole that the river base was made up of crevices of bumpy gravel. No more thuds and back between the channel markers what a relief. I turned the Manuel bilge pump on and it dripped a little. Thank God the hull had survived. I felt nervous after this and tired. If only the water intake strainer hadn't fallen off somewhere along the Italian Coast. It was impossible to fix without taking the boat out of the water, no chance of that happening.
Off upstream Arles came along pretty soon after. People had warned me Arles wasn't a great place to stop due to things being pinched from the decks of boats, bikes, fishing lines and other bits.
|Old factory, Arles.|
|Fishing Boats Arles.|
Next came a huge concrete wall spanning several 100 feet high across the whole river the wall was terrifying it looked like the gates to hell in a colditz slightly Russian communist style. At this point I only had a map. I was going to buy charts in Avignon.
I slowed the boat right down and just stared unable to absorb what I was confronted with. It was huge, menacing concrete fortress and totally out of any comparative experience. At this point I was about 2000 meters from it. I knew it wasn't a weir, I realised I was on the downstream side of a massive dam. Behind that huge wall were millions and millions of tons of water. I could feel myself having a panic attack I took big deep breaths. To be in front of this a lone is really scary. So I thought I would wait for another boat.
I sat midstream unable to go any closer. It was like looking at a alien landing craft. I waited and waited finally a couple in a motor boat turned up. They drove past waved and look slightly bemused at me sitting midstream. I followed them they looked back awkwardly at me and my strange looking boat. We reached a narrow channel and hay gestured for me to go first I refused gesturing that I would follow. I could tell they were getting a bit spooked by me but they were to far away to shout over too.
A light signal turned green and I followed them into a gigantic concrete cavern like a morselem. A vast concrete rectangular box. The walls were 35 meters high written on the side from the waterline. They were dark dank brown the colour of the inside of a British mushroom. The lock was 250 metres long. I crawled along behind the boat not knowing what to do totally panic stricken and feeling very imprisoned and venerable it was horrible. I saw they were tying to something in a slot in the wall. The doors of this cavern had become to start closing and I wasn't even tied up. I grabbed a ladder and tied on to it. Just to control the boat as I switched the motor off. I then tried to grab at the mooring post in the slot on the wall but keep missing, the cavern was getting darker.
They yelled at me to undo from the ladder and to turn my motor on. I knew not too tie to the wall ladder in a lock but needed something to tie on too for a moment. The doors had closed. There was silence I was yelling at the couple that I was so sorry it was my first time in something like this. They were sweet and understanding yelling back for me to tie the back up.
Louise back in Elba had said take a mooring line from the front and one from the back put both round one mooring bar in the lock wall and tie to a central mooring batten in the boat. Slowly up we went as the daylight flooded back down to us. It took a long time, my heart was just pounding I thought it was going to just going to pump out of my chest and drop down to where I left it. At the bottom of this bloody lock.
|Sunset Haute Nautique, Avignon.|
Stan had some family visiting from Naples and we quickly got talking about Lampedusa. They knew people from down there wow it seemed along way from Avignon, and I guess it was. They all could not believe I had come in this boat from there. The same reaction was displayed in Marseille but strangely to me it seems normal. They thought I must be a little crazy maybe I don't know how can one judge oneself. It is much easier to question oneself but to judge is much more difficult.
This journey has been conceptualised in my head as small steps each day. Then you arrive in a very distant location from your departure other peoples reactions alert one to this as this now has just become an everyday reality. Nothing strange or weird about it.
You know you look different like someone who lives outdoors they get a certain look. Slightly intense, alone, the skin gets weathered and rough looking. Your eyelashes grow very long to combat the intense daylight. Your facial hair, eyebrows get bleached, ones physic becomes very robust and strong. I now look clean still but like a vagabond.
You get sideways glances from people that is a new experience, personally never having experienced it before, it is really strange. I like to be outside looking in. When your at sea, you get these sensations of the world on the land running around land locked. On the boat the shore and the world seems far away. The life you had on land was intense constantly aware of other humans. At sea they, you are distanced from each other. You go into shore to see that old familiar existence and you come back out sea and leave it behind. Love it and love that feeling.
Definitely something you experience when totally alone at sea. With a crew it is different you are very much in touch still with the norm.
Getting back to Chloe and Stan they offer me a shower on there fabulous boat that they have completely re-built them selves. The place is full of classic 60's and 70's stuff they have picked up around France complete with original 70's kitchen, The shower which was once an old cow trough was revamped into a powder coated smooth looking space capsule, but still to be plumed in. Chloe offers me the deck shower and says don't worry about privacy Stan has gone shopping. The deck shower overlooks the Avignon River on the port side of the boat. It was a boiling hot day and it felt great to just strip bard and take a shower in the middle of the city on a barge deck. no boats floated past but I didn't care it was to hot to care. The Luke warm water felt great. I hadn't had a shower for a couple of days and the salt was still crusted in my hair.
An old boy in the boat next door, I realised had noticed me splashing about. I was to self absorbed to care, I thought what the hell, later I was to meet him. Jean was his name.
Chloe offered me supper. Chloe and Stan used to run a restaurant next to a sky divers club. They said they were used to people in odd states of emotion. They arrive at their bar prior to skydiving looking serious, anxious and uptight. They would come back after their dive totally high an Adrenalin and with huge smiles. Sky Diving releases on endorphin which makes you very high. They explained some people were literally addicts and had to go everyday to get their fix. They put on a real feast. Jean the guy I had spotted earlier in my naked state popped by.
A Frenchman who had sailed in every ocean and was a world of knowledge and an amazing mosaic artist he had designed and installed metres of mosaics in The Versace Villa, in Miami. Jean was funny, cantankerous loud and obnoxious. I immediately wanted to adopt him as a father he reminded me a lot of my late father. A total joy to be around who everyone fell in love with.
The couple I met in the lock incident moored close by and walked over to say Hi, we were all drinking on the deck. They had been looking at my website and wanted to explain some details of routes on a bunch of maps. They explained how I was in the lock and everyone was in tears of laughter including me despite it not being funny at the time. I thought wow Lucy you can be sooo neurotic. Its funny how people can show up again when in an awkward moment you hope you were passing ships in the night.
The next day Chloe and I went to sort some things out in Avignon. Came back had lunch and I pottered round the boat. It was good to stop for a couple of days. Chloe offered to translate the Press Release in to French and send it to some Press in Paris. Jean came by and marched me off to show me his barge complete with a swimming pool. Jean's Barge was glorious. Inside the decor was slightly colonial Chinese style lots of dark stained wood, Old wooden floorboards,19th century oriental furniture walls painted deep pea green and then the master piece a curved fully mosaic tiled 1920s design swimming pool complete with mermaids. It didn't feel inside at all like a boat but like being inside one of the merchants houses in Fournier Street. Totally unique. He is retired but runs a bed and breakfast in his boat with his wife.
I need to move the boat as a hotel barge moors up to Chloe and Stan once a month for a couple of nights. Chloe introduces me to Natalie and Cedric. They have a huge commercial barge that they deliver rice on it takes 240 tons of rice or produce. I was excited to meet them as I had seen these barges in Amsterdam. I often thought what a great job being on these rivers and canals driving these huge barges, picking up and delivering. Always being somewhere different. They have a small apartment on the back with a crane to lift a car on and off. Natalie was Dutch and sixth generation in a family of barge captains.
Cedric came from a similar family. So guess they both grew up in Families always on the move. I asked many questions of how they spent there days and what there barge life was like. The following Tuesday they had to pick up 225 tons of grain from The commercial port in Avignon to take to Antwerp. Then back again. Natalie and Cedric were a huge source of information on all the European canals and Rivers.
|Street Wall Drawing, Avignon.|
Pottered round the boat, Brought a vignette card for the French waterways and worked on this blog.
Natalie came by with my whole trip organised to Belgium. Complete with maps and fluvial guides. All complete with post it notes on every page explaining places to stop and things to look out for. Lock radios, emergency numbers the whole shebang. Natalie must have spent hours on it. I was amazed and really touched. What a total angel. Some people on this trip have been unbelievable kind and genuine. It makes up for all the hardship before it commenced.
Stan very kindle offered to try to get my fridge to work which hadn't worked from the start. He thought it was because it was so close to the engine. So after hours of pulling and pushing and taking it apart we mentioned to get it on the deck. It worked with its own battery source of Stans but somehow not after I had left.
Stan and Cedric also welded the steel side rails back together. It had come apart after the boat lifting company in Lampedusa had lifted the boat back in to the water using a lifting frame that was way to small for my boat causing the top frame of the boat to come away from the deck and breaking the steel side rails. When I asked them to repair the damage they told me to claim on my insurance, yeah right!
Obviously this was done deliberately as they thought they could make some cash on an insurance claim that they created. Work that one out!
This is a firm that lifts islanders boats in and out of the water everyday and there's don't get pulled to pieces in the process, ever.
I go in town and buy some small gifts for the fabulous group who live on the river of Avignon. What a totally special and unique neighbourhood. A come back and have lunch with Chloe and Stan and Jean. It is time to set off its around 2.00pm. So will make four or five hours down the river.
|Hydrangeas for Chloe.|
I reach St Etienne Des Sorts around 8.00pm as it gets dark around 8.30pm. The pontoon is a little way out of town. An old barge is taking up most of the space. A yacht is tied to it at the bow. The yachts lights are on so I quietly tie up to the stern of this big old lump of steel. I eat some bread and cheese as I had been spoilt with Chloe and Stans cooking for most of the week.
I wake up early. Eat some apricot tart from yesterday still tastes delicious French patisserie is so completely lush. The chap from the yacht comes by a middle man who seems a little lonesome he starts explaining his divorce to me, then goes on to how difficult it is for him to find cheap storage for his yacht, that it is going to rain later that I should expect thunder. I cut him off as he is beginning to make me feel depressed and I am still feeling very jolly after the last few days. Time to go.
So head out another lock. I take some deep breathes I have to combat this lock phobia as there are about 360 more before Amsterdam. I enter slowly really take my time and concentrate on what I am doing. I remember all of Natalies advice and whole exercise runs like clockwork.
|Vast Lock Interior.|
I reach the other side and feel really elated. Once you get a process right, you've got it, processed it and can manage. What a huge relief as that was lock 4. The rest of the day went quickly France has a lot of nuclear power stations little mini ones. It is strange to go by them on The Rhone so close in England you can't get anywhere near them. Lots of large dead fish in the water though I noticed.
I arrive in Valance some elderly locals who have motor boats in the harbour help me tie up. They are fascinated by the boat and my living conditions. They cannot believe I can sleep in such a tiny space they all went to have a good look. I feel a little uneasy and it all feels a bit intrusive but what can you say when they are all being really enthusiastic. I make up a salad and neighbouring boat gives me some bread, someone else brings me some beers. I ask where I can find some oil and someone brings me a huge bottle. The neighbouring man takes many photos of the boat.
Wake up early the neighbour has his camera out again and starts busily snapping as I am arranging stuff in the cabin. He feels like a paparazzi. I get a deep sense of claustrophobia and decide to make a quick dash in to town. I want some wine for my evenings and a coffee right now. The city is closed Sunday mooring 8.30am no coffee bars head for the train station always a place open there. Sink a double espresso and head back to the boat. Got some hours to catch up on. Head off and reach Andance a tiny village with three huge stone crucifixes on the hill overlooking the village. The public platoon is full with one boat attached the platoon is small. So I attach myself to this motor boat. I have been going all day and feel trashed.
|Stone Crucifixes St Etienne Des Sorts.|
|River Boat Wreak.|
The locks all went smooth as clockwork. One lock keeper took photos from his watch tower high up over the hydro electric dam the lock and TO6411. The lock keepers are all very friendly and wish me a good journey over the radio. They call it the Lampedusa and it seems to have spread from Lock to Lock which is cool. The first ones must be having a good laugh at me. The French are so sweet and charming. I have a soft spot for them as my father was French.
An elderly Dutch couple own the boat I am tied too and we finally meet each other. I apologise for tying up without asking but they weren't around. They are very nice about it and don't appear to be worried. Natalie and Cedric come up in the conversation and it turn out that that Frank was Natalie's primary school teacher, small world….Wow. We follow each other down the river to the next port Roches De Condrieu another dear little village. They plan to stay and I plan to buy diesel and head on. I fill up then try to move forward and the boat will not engage in forward or reverse. shit…… The boat won't go forward or reverse. I am not beached again I check that. The Gas man happens to be the Captaineire, super nice down to earth middle aged man. He leaves me to tinker to try to resolve the problem, I check the impeller, the water hose, I look at the propeller shaft I notice some ware on the steel tube. I am not sure but think it may be the stern shaft.
The Capatiniere comes back after his lunch to check on progress, no progress he tows me to a berth. Gives me the codes for the bathrooms and Internet. By now it is late so go and find something to eat the village is closed its Monday and that in rural France means closed. I find a Carole takeaway not quite what I was dreaming of but get something there. Go back to the boat to ponder.
|French Fishing Device.|
Go see then Captaineire he has the voltage boat mechanics number. Within minutes of phoning the Mechanics father arrives explaining that his son the mechanic is away and will not be returning until the first of September. All the locals explain that France basically is shut until the beginning of September. The guy takes a look and thinks it is the impeller and the boat will have to be lifted from the water and the whole back section removed. I disagree thinking it is the steel tree section that needs replacing. His English and my French to not help the situation so we go to ask the Dutch couple to help translate. Frank appears I introduce the pair Frank just says 'I know this man' with a really strange detached look on his face, instincts tell me he will translate
We go back to the boat he explains it is a huge job, I ask about the price he says he doesn't know and that I must wait until the beginning of September. The mechanics father leaves. I go Back to the boat feeling really depressed.
Frank turns up. He tells me that this mechanic caused him huge problems that he took half his boat to pieces and it charged €7,000 and still had not fixed the problem in the end he went back To The Netherlands. Job done, for`€1200. He told me not to let the guy near my boat. To find someone else. He left on that note and wished me good luck with the trip.
I got up and as I was having a morning stretch as my cabin is 1m x 1.5m and is the first thing you do when you open your eyes and have a massive yearning to get the hell out of it. Frank and his wife were leaving the port. I felt depressed and a bit abandoned. Abandoned by strangers Lucy Wood. It is amazing how vunerable you can feel at times doing something like this. Living in London for the last 23 years you become totally independent. You survive on relying on others for as little as possible. This trip has taught me to rely on people again. It is a strange and venerable feeling. I don't know that I particularly like the sensation. I rang Chloe to ask her to check mechanics in my area to see if there was someone else besides these characters. Within an hour she back and said nobody. Not to worry they will be okay. I was going to find someone else and fast. I rang her back and asked her to try agricultural mechanics, this village, this area was full of farms and the village was full of tractor showrooms so I guessed they would need fixing now and again, Right!
She questioned my thinking and I respond this is a tractor engine so what is the difference between a tractor engine being in a tractor or a boat. No difference, just variation of transport. She thought my logic was odd but agreed to try and track down an agricultural engineer. She came back and had found a guy a few kilometres away who fixed combine harvesters and train locomotives. Perfect I thought. Chloe advised he would come by in a couple of hours.
Two burly Frenchmen arrived and one squished himself down below to look at the shaft. His English was adequate so that was a big help. He immediately explained the shaft had worn and needed replacing. So no need to start taking the back of the boat apart. Great! Just as I thought. He took it out and showed the problem where the steel had worn, probably because the engine needed re-aligning. A huge job. so fix the stern shaft and hope it gets to London. He said it would take a couple of days to make a new one. Offered to make it and
fit it for 300 euros, great. They left and I was very relieved.
I potter round with domestic chores and give the boat a good clean. Pulling everything out and putting it all back in some kind of order. The cabin gets into such a mess which intensifies the feeling of deep claustrophobia. Lucky it’s warm and I can be outside all the time. I begin to think of how difficult it will be when the weather changes. I cycle in to town to the market. This town is very shut up with lots of closed shops that look like they have been closed for a while. The market though is busy with people getting their fruit and veggies and
local Chevre cheese. Yum.
The mechanic arrives early with the new shaft section which he proudly fits. I very happy as I want to move on. The lads in the port look very perplexed as to who this mechanic on there turf is….The marina mechanics father is circling around in his boat realising that he has been succeeded and looking put out. I don't want to get into debate. I just want it fixed and get back on the canal navigating to London town. I get really tired of this attitude in places where they don't get that the world is a free market place and you can use who you like. The shaft it fitted we go in to town and get his money and then take a beer. He is proud of his engineering skills. One thing in France is the people that I have come across and genuine and kind. I like them very much. I go back to the boat and head for Lyon. I arrive in Lyon around 6.00pm.
The reaction to the boat is great. Lots of waves and questions when I get into the city. People recognise what the boat is straight away and take pictures of it with themselves and genuinely engage with the boat. It is really fabulous to see TO6411 speaking for herself and people being enthusiastic. After a busy day and with tomorrow being Sunday I decide to leave around 4.00pm. Sailing out through the suburbs of Lyon and back into countryside, fields and forests. Arrive in Montmerle-Sur-Soane around 7.30pm. Several motor boats already in place for the night. Several people come to look and ask about they boat. They are surprised it has made it such a long distance. Frank and his wife are also moored up. He is very pleased and surprised that the TO6411 got fixed so quickly back in Condrieu and that I managed to avoid his mechanic.
Wake up early to a market being set up in the square. I need some oil so ask the other boats where I can get some. They advise about five miles away but it is Sunday in France and the garage may or may not be open. I go get a coffee. On my return, a ten litre bottle of oil has been placed by the boat. The neighbour smiles and winks at me. Sweet gesture. Then another neighbour brings a twenty litre bottle of oil. He says just in case. Invites for a coffee. They are a very sweet German couple with a beautiful barge. We sit and chat. I decide to leave and make some more progress. The cold north is beginning to play on my mind. Although I would love to just potter around on these ports and relax. I have a long way to go. Time to head on. The river is flanked with trees and fields. The landscape is quite flat. Macon looks a sweet place from the boat, but four hours is too short a time.I need to get in seven today.
It very windy from the south, which pushes the boat along. I am warned of a bridge by Natalie previously that is difficult with problematic currents around it. I start to slow down and spot a big barge coming in the other direction. A small rowing boat is on my port side. The guy is photographing bird life. He has the whole boat set up with a photography umbrella and masses of equipment. He is heavily engaged with his subject matter. I watch him as I wait for the barge to pass as this bridge is single file. I watch the barge steaming towards me heavily loaded and so very low in the water. The captain is on his mobile looking out of his port side window.
Suddenly I realise that he has not spotted the tiny boat and the photographer is totally oblivious to the barge coming thundering along behind him. Next it clicks that this barge is going to run straight into the back of his boat. It is strange, so surreal everything goes into slow motion. I start yelling for the man to move in the small boat, but he doesn't hear me. It’s windy and my voice is not carrying. An accident probably ending in death is about to happen right in front of me. I feel terrified for this man in his boat. I start bellowing with all my might, screaming out as loudly as possible hey, no, no, hey …… that is all that comes out. The barge is within 20 metres of him now and will go straight into his back at full speed. The man slowly turns around. His face looks horrified. Then the barge blocks my view. I feel truly sick. The barge passes in seconds.
The small boat has photography equipment floating around it and a very, very white faced man sitting very still. The back of the barge is now passing him with less then a metre between them. I race over and get my boat hook to help him with his gear. The barge driver is still on the phone looking out the side window in the same position. He didn't see the small boat. I help a very shaken up middle-aged man. He can't thank me enough. I find it hard to speak. I am so happy he is alive. That was very very close. I leave, but feel strange as full of adrenalin and also in shock. I carry on, but want to stop.
I get to Gigny - a gorgeous haute nautique in a disused lock. All very rural and run by a cheerful and relaxed Swiss couple Heidi and Stephen. They also rent out pleasure boats. They help me tie up and direct me to the local campsite as the restaurant on the lock is fully booked. I walk through the fields and reflect on the day. Pick up a great beef bourguignon and chips from the campsite cafe.
Wake up and Heidi and Stephan offer me a lift into town to the supermarket. Pick up some supplies and some glue for a small issue on the boat. Gigny lock is surrounded by beautiful lush countryside. It is a special place. People on this trip have been so kind and helpful. It makes such a difference when you are alone. They want me to stay but I have to press on. I still have so far to go. I leave at lunchtime. The river is calm. The wind has died down.
An uneventful few hours later, I arrive at Seurre.
I tie up next to a beautiful old barge. Two 'Russian Blue' cats leap on board followed by a wiry little dog. Great welcome. The owners, a British couple, David and Gill, have lived on the boat for several years and used to live in London. We have a drink together. A Scottish guy called Junior, with a really crazy looking boat joins us. He also has been roaming the canals of France for a number of years. It is strange the first Anglo Saxons with boats down here so far. I liked the shared experiences and familiarity. We all turn in around 10.00pm.
|View from Boat.|
One long day. Miles of fields. Stop at twilight in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing left to eat on the boat. Tie to a tree and go to bed. Get woken up by something big rustling around. I look out first and I think it is a person on their hands and knees by the boat. It’s about 4.00am. I keep all the lights off and listen and watch out of the cabin window. Then I hear more rustling and realise it’s a family of animals but I can't see what they are. I decide to let the ropes out a bit, as I don't like the idea of them coming aboard. The boat is almost parallel to the bank. I shine a torch around to try to frighten them away. I hear a lot of shuffling in the bushes and decide they must be some sheep.
I get busy loosing off the rope so the boat floats out but then something comes out of the bushes and runs full pelt at the boat. It looks like a sheep at first then I quickly realise its a pig with huge tusks. I jump right across to the other side of the boat and this pig runs at the boat and somehow gets its tusk caught. It slips down the bank and thumps into the side of the boat sending the boat flying sideways. I am terrified. The pig crashes around between the bank and the boat trying to find its footing. It finally gets out and runs off. I thought that is one heavy animal and went back to bed. In the morning I checked the boat and it had damaged the wood a bit. Taking out a chunk. I am not sure about the countryside. This place has dense forest on both sides for the canal.
The day is long with many locks to pass some with derelict lock keepers cottages. No other boats and miles of countryside. I feel a bit depressed and hungry. Quite alone out here in the rural wilderness. No villages or sign of life. The canal is narrow and the forest high all around. No phone signal, nothing.
|Derelict Lock Keepers Cottage.|
Finally signs of life. A lock keepers cottage turned into a restaurant at Sur Maurice Sur Vingeanne. Joy. Its about 5pm and I am tired. It’s time to stop for the day. The restaurant is shut. Across the road is a farm shop. I go in to see what they have. Chevre, Chevre, or chevre. many varieties. They don't sell anything else. Hmmmm cheese for dinner.
The restaurant comes to life a couple of hours later. After my purchases of a supper of cheive, I wander in and it is full of locals. They are all fascinated by TO6411 and what she is and how many people she carried and where the people were from. They all go to look and take photos. They share their wine with me and the local escargot and sausage stew. I sleep well on the boat. I feel so good when people take interest in TO6411. All the discomfort is worth it. These people are all now are much more aware of the plight of migrants coming to Europe and how truly difficult it is.
I get up around 6.00am the sun wakes you. One is now in mother nature's natural clock. City time has become a thing of the past. Off to try to reach Heiulley Cotton. I would have been through 43 locks in the last four days when we arrive in Heuilley-Cotton. It gets tiring. The landscape is really beautiful. Soft and gentle the canal curls like a serpent. It is very quite apart from the odd cow bell clinking along. Fields, forests and abandoned houses. Deeply rural. I reach Heuilley-Cotton around 6.00pm. Another very long day.
A female staff member of Inland Waterways Frence. (VNF) greets me with a big smile and is eager to see the boat. The locks have all been taking me up a mountain. This is the summit with the famous Balesmes tunnel - five km long. After the tunnel are 18 manual locks. By the time I reach Vitry-Le- Francois I would have passed through 114 locks on this small stretch. It starts to rain and the lady offers me a shower and kitchen in the vnf offices. I am super-happy.
I am told I have the 8.00am slot as a commercial barge is going through at 10.00 am. They allow one boat one way at a time. I am nervous of such a long tunnel. She asks the name but decides to call it the 'Lampedusa Bateau'. She explains I will be met after the tunnel by a man who will take me through the proceeding 18 manual locks over two days. There is a speed limit of 5km an hour in the long narrow tunnel. I take a short walk through the very quite village but no bar or restaurant. I decide to have an early night.
Wake up at 6am and a VNF staff member comes by with a coffee. It is very misty outside and crisp. He says I am first on the list and I can make my way up to the tunnel when I like. Around seven I set off it is another three miles away. The forest becomes quite dense on the sides of the canal. Perfect reflections in the canal. It is heavenly beautiful. Lush and the trees are full of dew. It is very silent apart from TO6411 motor chugging away. She really is a good old girl. I am really proud off her. It is strange she is here in the middle of the French countryside all the way from Africa. We are a real team. She has had to put up with a lot having me as her navigator I feel very sorry for her. She has taken a few knocks through all these locks, at times. A bright neon sign flashes at the entry to the tunnel. It makes me laugh out loud it says
It is so strange to see the name Lampedusa in this place. The two landscapes are as opposite in extremes as you can get. Like comparing an Eskimo in a tropical rain forest. The tunnel is pitch black once I entered just a row of orange lights running along the centre. They turn off as you pass under them. Traffic lights flicker on the side red if you go to fast. I have no speedometer so stick in forward with no acceleration. The tunnel feels surprisingly warm and very dry. The water lies still like black ink. About an hour later sunlight beams in.
Three locks on, the locks are manual . I wait for a staff member of Inland Waterways Frence. (VNF). To come with me. They ride a scooter along the tow path and open the locks and bridges. A guy turns up and off we set off. The water comes in fast on the small older locks so I have to tie up well to control TO6411 she is really heavy and one has to keep her off the sides as she bangs up against them with the movement of the water.
After seven locks its feels like a long day. Some locks are within half a kilometre from each other. The lock man says it is six o'clock and time to stop. We are in the middle of nowhere still. .
A new VNF man arrives to take me through the next set of manual locks and bridges. He is quite young and very smiley. We go through some amazing old lifting bridges that look like antiques.
The landscape is stunning with old farms along the route. It starts to rain. I feel sorry for him racing ahead of TO6411 to get the locks open. I say he should stop as the rain is coming down hard but he wants to carry on. I give some peaches as he agrees to stop for five minutes. 8 locks and bridges later . The locks go back to automatic. I give him ten euros as a tip and he is really happy. He explains the system shuts at six. I decide to press on and see how far I get. At least now I have bread. I carry on until it is six and I am still in the middle of fields and forest. I see a beautiful Dutch barge and moor next to it. An elderly Dutch couple are aboard and we have a drink. They are very sweet and explain how to deal with the big commercial barges that they say I need to be aware of as I go north. They give a piece of golden advice that no one has so far mentioned. 'Always look behind to see what is coming, as they don't see you'. 'What!', I reply shocked. They explain that it catches many unwary out.
We have an interesting discussion on people swimming in the canal, but it is dark, still and full of boat and barge pollution. I don't like the idea of it, despite it being summer. There are many fisherman and you see the fish so the water must be reasonable clean. Fresh water is strange to swim in it always feels like it is dragging you under, no buoyancy like salt water.
A wake up to more idyllic French countryside. The Dutch are already preparing to leave. The canal is covered in morning mist but it lifts quite quickly. I decide to tidy up a bit before leaving. I did consider going with them as then it is easier with two boats in each lock. The VNF were meeting me as I had already arranged yesterday as two manual bridges were coming up before automation locks again. They leave and disappear into the lock around 500 metres away. I tuck in to a pot of yogurt that I haul up from over the side. I keep things that are sealed in the canal sometimes as it keeps stuff cool. Happy and relaxed, I get ready to go.
A boat appears in the distance, a huge blue and white motor cruiser. it is pristine white like most of the others and shimmers in the sun. What happened next, when I think back, fills me with anger, horror and disgust. He approaches from downstream behind me. I think he is slowing down as the remote control post for the lock mechanism is ten metres from my boat. The VNF give you a remote that you press pointing at the remote pole which then opens the lock.
The boat suddenly speeds up I don't take much notice as I am always a bit dopey in the mornings and take at least an hour to be com-pas-mentos. I wander why he speeds up as the lock gate had not opened. Once next to me around five metros away he slams into reverse and starts revving his engine then slams forward again. My boat is tipped to the metal pontoon and starts crashing against the pontoon. I run to the side to try and protect the boat at the same time the man revs and revs and revs his engine and the whole canal fills with diesel fumes.
I continue trying to rescue my boat, but it gets so bad I can no longer see my hands trying to push the boat away from the pontoon. I can't see anything as the revving continues. I start coughing. I am in a huge cloud of white smoke. The back of my throat starts seizing up and I can't breath. I begin to panic my head begins to feel like it is going to explode. it really hurts inside. My eyes are welling up at this moment and my body feels very very hot. I can't even scream or speak. I try, but the fumes are so intense. i begin to feel myself collapsing and after a few moments, the revving stops and he drifts on.
I am feeling very groggy and realise the fumes and smoke are lifting. Slowly I can make out the shape of his boat. I see a German flag, an elderly women and a cockier spaniel dog sitting at the bow. I cannot believe what has just happened. I realise if I don't get the name or number of his boat, then he will go through that lock and would have just got away with trying to intimidate me. I feel very confused and upset. My body feels like it is going to explode. I take my jacket and jersey off. I am very hot and my chest is extremely tight. I cannot draw a breath.
I know I have to do something. The huge cloud of smoke starts clearing and I can see the canal again it is only about 15 metres wide. I gather my strength and start making my way up to the lock. I can see he is now in the lock and the gates are closing. I know that the lock will take five minutes to empty and to open. I cannot run as I am weak and hot and breathless. Fear and panic turn quickly in to rage and anger. I feel absolutely furious. I get to the lock and he is standing with his back to me at his helm, on the roof of the boat. I ask what the hell he thought he was doing. He turns around. He’s an elderly man with a skinhead and waxed moustache and stubbly face. He comes off his boat and very aggressively starts yelling at me in German. I didn't understand a word and then he starts approaching me with his fists clenched then pointing at me.
I notice two men on the side of the lock. I hadn't seen them and didn't know who they were. The man then swings towards me as if he is going to headset me. I step back realising this person is very dangerous and aggressive. I can't believe the situation. I shout two at the two men. 'This man is a very dangerous man" I look straight at his and say 'keep away from me'. I have to turn sideways as he is so close. The guy is filled with anger and spits hatred out without even words. Fear sets in. The men come over. They are between us and I explain what has just happened. One luckily speaks English. They tell the man to calm down and step back. He complies, He looks shocked that they are there. They explain they are VNF staff and they were waiting on the lock for me to help me through the following two manual locks. They were sitting by the lock having a cigarette when they witnessed the whole event.
The German at this stage looked shocked and embarrassed and very still. They asked why he did that. His excuse was that I had passed him the day before and the water as I passed had rocked his boat. They said, but she is just nine metres and she is very slow. We know as we have been helping her in the locks. They went on say that his boat is 27 metres and surely would not even feel me going past. He went to explain that he disapproved of my project, that he didn't like refugees coming to Europe and he started to rant and rave. He got back in his boat. I said I was going to the police to complain. He just drove off.
The VNF staff had taken his boat number and name. They explained he could not escape as they can stop the locks using central control place. I started to cry and I felt very shaken up. My chest was very painful. They said they witnessed the whole event and it had never happened before. That they had rung the supervisor shortly after to ask what to do. They said they would take me through the next two locks to Froncles as we were in the middle of nowhere. Hence the man thought he could do that and there would be no witnesses. I went back to the boat feeling really rough. I checked TO6411 for any damage. She was OK.
Froncles was very close a couple of miles away. I felt depressed and tearful. The day and Dutch couple before were so sweet. The day had started so peacefully. I arrived in Froncles. The VNF staff left to go and write there report. A few boats were already moored. It was a very tranquil setting with a few motor homes parked with the boats and a small village beyond. I came alongside the platoon between two motor boats.
A man introduces himself as Patrick. He popped out of his boat wanting to help me tie up. I felt still in shock. My chest was still very tight and I couldn't breathe. I explained a bit of what had just happened. He was from Ireland and made me a cup of tea. I explained my chest was sore. Its difficult to explain the whole thing when you meet a stranger and are still in shock. It all just felt surreal. He went back to his boat. I rang Chloe in Avignon to explain I needed a doctor for my chest. I explained what had happened. She could not believe it. She said it was Sunday and hard to find a doctor. She said she would call me back. In the meantime the Irish man returned with a ham salad for me. Very kind. I wasn't very hungry.
I sat very quietly feeling pretty depressed. Thinking about the project, the migrants arriving in these boats and the reaction people can have to it. I felt very sad that the world could be so messed up.
An ambulance arrives. Chloe had sent for it. I explained that I had had suffered from asthma before and that my chest felt like it would explode at any second. Their English was okay. They insisted they get me to hospital and fast. I shut the boat up. Patrick said he would take care of it. In the ambulance I keep drifting in and out of reality a bit. Next thing I am in the hospital. The doctor arrives asking how it happened. In England they ask the same. They like to know the event to get the full picture. I started to explain about the boat approaching and what this guy did. The doctor rolled his eyeballs and said abruptly. ' I don't care to hear all this just give me your symptoms' I am doctor. I am not interested in how it happened'.
I was a bit taken back. He ordered the nurse to take some blood samples for carbon monoxide poisoning. They checked my heart and pulse rate and attached me to a breathing monitor. I hate hospitals at the best of times. I always think of weakness, sickness and death.
I lie on the trolley tears roll down my checks. I feel very defeated. I think about the project and how tough it has been. That trolley put my head is a very sad space. The doctor comes back. Why are you crying? I don't even bother to answer, I just look at the ceiling. He then explains in a slightly more gentle tone that they are testing for poisoning and the results will be back in an hour. If the quantities are very high then I will need more treatment. Then goes on to say there are no beds. Fine I think . Whatever…..as we say in England.
This doctor is a total egocentric idiot who expects his patients to lick his arse and feed his ego all day. Big difference in the culture of medics in the UK who are a bit more relaxed on the whole and human to their subject matter. The guy then asks me if I suffer from depression as I am crying? I can't believe this man. I feel like jumping off the trolley and smacking his in the head. I respond ' No I don't suffer from depression but someone has just tried to gas me to death. Maybe you would also feel unhappy if it had just happened to you'. I close my eyes at that point and nod off. Much later they come back with my results. I have very high levels of carbon monoxide in my bloodstream, that of a chain smoker. Although I don't smoke.
Hopefully the levels will slowly drop over time and that there is not much they can do and to see how I feel the next day.
Whatever they gave me has helped my breathing at this point. So I leave to find the police station. Patrick offered to pick me up so I call him and we decide he will come to the police station when I am finished. I go to the police and at first they ask if it was an accident. I explain certainly not and that the guy could have killed me. They cannot decide weather it is assault or not. Then they ask me what the British police would do. I explain its an internal assault okay its not on the outside, but damage to me is on the inside. The British Police would see it as assault. They explain that they need an English-speaking policeman and that I should wait until the morning. The man can't go far in his boat as it takes three days to get to the end of this canal and the locks open at 9.00 and shut at 6.00pm.
Patrick comes and picks me up. He is a real sweetie. On the drive back to Froncles, he says he is a medical doctor, in fact a GP in Dublin, but he didn't want to say so before. He invites me to have dinner on his boat with his wife, Ann. I cheer up but suddenly feel doubtful about this project. I question myself all night about what I am doing. I feel defeated, flat and worthless. The project is and has been abused in the past. The lack of Press interest hadn't helped despite people like Bridget doing the PR and my Gallerist trying to engage interest.
If something has some press involvement and interest it is amazing how the public response changes. Perhaps this project and all the time and work is totally in vain and the current situation in the last 24 hours would not have happened. Who knows. That night, I feel mostly sorrow for all the refugees running to a new place in fear globally. You try to make a difference to help those with no voice but if you also are not given a voice then what………nothing.
Wake up feeling sick. Take the morning slowly and do some washing. Patrick and his wife feel my energy and try to lift my spirits. The police arrive and Patrick translates. They say they can arrest the man. The VNF know exactly where he is. So I give a statement. Then they say the case could take up to six months and I would have to come back and fourth to France. They would have to get the German Police to extradite him. It’s a big process. That means it will be hard to finish the project. I ponder. Then they explain they can go and speak to him. I explain he won't care. The guy is full of hatred and contempt and is a sick man to react as he did. I explain he saw me as a symbol of refugees and so took his hatred and anger out on a humanitarian project.
I feel sick as I type these words. Really really sick. So not much could be done if I went forward with this case. The project would have to stop and that Bastard would have won. For that reason I said okay I can't press charges. This project goes on to the end and for those people that this boat represents.
The rest of the day I just potter round. That evening a young couple invite me for supper. They are very sweet and giggly together. I still feel strange so leave around 10.00pm and go back to my boat.
A nervous start and I feel anxious about carrying on. It like falling off a horse you have to get straight back on otherwise you lose your nerve. I knew my confidence was shot. I spoke with Ann about it and she said You should go today, the longer you leave it the harder it will be.
She was right. So set off towards Joinville. A VNF man comes to help me through the next three locks. He is super sweet. Can tell that I am a little nervous. I feel very clingy towards him. Slightly fearful of the German but he is miles away I am told. He goes on to say there is a small settlement after Joinville called Curel. so I decide to head there as the lock keepers house is occupied by a vnf staff member and his family, the man explains. He leaves as the next locks are remote control.
I reach Joinville which doesn't look so special. A Haute Nautique is there but I feel a little nervous of other boats and decide I would prefer to be around the VNF staff as they have been truly brilliant.
The lock at Joinville is broken so I call the VNF. The family in the old lock keepers house all come out to stare at the TO6411 they cannot believe where it has come from. Rattle away to each other about it. The grandmother puts her granddaughter on the TO6411 and says take her to London, we all have a good laugh. I explain I am not very good with children they look a bit bemused.
|Family and Lock keepers house Joinville.|
I reach the lock and a very rustic house with a farmyard garden sits in its rural idle. A small village lies on the other side of the lock. A very jolly VNF man helps me tie up. We gesture as his English and my French are minimal. I ask about finding some food, a bakery, supermarket, restaurant ??? he replies there is nothing but a bakery and it closes at midday.
He invites me into his living room which opens directly by the side of the lock. His wife sits peeling some beans. A large very warm open smile, greets me. They rattle away to each other.
The room is amazing I am silent,dumbfounded. It is full of cages with different animals, rabbits, hamsters, chickens, ducks, A cat on a lead that is extremely old and demented. The animals hop around on the kitchen bench and on the table then a duck walks over my foot and wags its tail to say Hi. A goose then turns up at the front door and strolls in upsetting the duck but heads straight for the cat on the lead giving it a friendly peck on the cats check. The cat doesn't react.
He hands me six eggs. I explain I don't have a cooker. He can't believe it, what nothing, yes nothing. No bathroom? No I reply. It’s constant fascination of people I meet on this trip that I have no loo.
I explain that I perch on the side sometimes when navigating. He bursts into laughter. He says he will cook me some eggs and to fetch a plate from the boat. Off I go. I come back with the plate and he has cooked me four fried eggs. He then opens the oven door pulls out a chicken that died of old age yesterday and cuts off one of its legs. He hands me the plate. It is quite a sight - four fried eggs with a roast chicken leg on top. I am very very grateful. He sends me back to the boat. Allee Allee he chants.
These people are real darlings.
I get up early and head to the bakery. I need to find something to give the lock keeper and his wife. The bakery is tiny with two varieties of baguettes and some croissants. Packets of meringues and chewing gum sit by the counter. This shop hasn't changed since the Fifties. Frilly net curtains adorn the windows. I by some bread for myself and the lock keeper and a large packet of meringues.
Back at the lock I see they are sitting in the front room. I take them the bread and meringues and they are very happy. I ask if I can take a photo as a reminder his wife comes out and stands proudly for the picture.
|Lock Keepers Wife, Jean.|
I leave with a tear of joy in my eyes they were Classic, total gems. I wish the world was full of people like them. Happy to share what they had with a total stranger. This couple helped me a lot to restore my confidence in the human race. Headed off around 9.00am towards Chalon.
More manual locks and lifting bridges. Another VNF member came by to help. The bridges were like 'Meccano' structures. Sometimes pulled up by cable and a great big manual wheel. The canal started straightening out a little after industrial St Dizier. Then along side a huge military base. That had some amazing old lookout structures like a Louise Bourgeois spider.
Fighter Jets ad drones roared above as they were landing a mile or so away. it was a strange feeling. Never having been under so many and so noisy. I put my ear plugs in.
Next came the village that everyone keep warning me about not to stop at under any circumstances. I wandered how bad it could be with so many warnings. It was called Sapignicourt. It was a 'French travelers' village.
Typically with caravans and small single level houses. Lots of dogs and ponies around. I stopped in the lock and as I was descending a group of young lads came along. They crouched on the ledge and were very friendly. 'Bonjour, Bonjour' they shouted. Asking about the boat and who I was travelling with and where I had come from. They were very animated they reminded me of the fisherman back in Palermo. I liked them they were fascinated by the boat and keep admiring it.
A VNF man turned up at the next lock as the following three were manual. I manage to get through the three but then it was 7.00pm and lock closing time. I had reached close to Goncourt. I tied up and went straight to bed.
Today I wanted to try to get to Chalons-Sur-Marne. As there were some good runs and only around ten locks. It was a long boring day. Passing Vitry-Le-Francois and many other agricultural villages surrounding silos. The landscape was flat and I passed only one barge. I reached Chalons-Sur-Marne at around 4.00pm. The Haute Nautique was by the city park.
I wandered into town and picked up some supplies. I noticed that TO6411 wasn't very well today she was quite smoky. So I started to investigate. Another boat owner came by and asked if I needed any help. Soon found some debris caught in the impeller and removed it. Also I wanted to do an oil change so he lent me his kit. I decided I would do it first thing in the morning.
The weed in the canals has been really hectic in the last few days. Constantly one has to check the water intake and impeller and strainer. It all plays havoc with the cooling system. I had been removing twigs and weed every night.
Got up early and started sucking out the oil. The hand pump and technique was quite tricky. The man from yesterday was not around. So experimented and after a frustrating few hours managed to suck out 9 lite rs of oil down to the last drop. It was tough going and TO6411's first oil change so the oil had been in her since Africa. I noticed it was quite gritty.
In Lampedusa they advised me an oil change was not necessary when I questioned the mechanic.
In when the new oil ten liters and I felt quite proud of myself for once. I started her up and the smell of the new oil wafted around. She went like a little dream and seemed a lot happier. It was late by now so decided it wasn't worth setting off to far. Also the junction to Paris was coming up and I had been told it was going to be a long trip there and back to just further north at La Fere.
A young Dutch Couple called Esta and Arthur, in the early thirties came over whilst I was checking out my maps. They had a really funky looking boat and the first people who were more like minded to me in months.
They told me that part of the Seine was closed for the whole of September due to lack of water. So you had to take a detour of an extra 200 miles on top of the 400 of the round trip. As two of the rivers the Canal De Bourgogne and The canal di Nivernais to get to Paris were closed. So this route I had taken had always seen as a last resort because of the 400+ locks I had passed.
They warned Paris was difficult with the boat because of all the commercial traffic. They had just been there. You cannot slow down to take images you can get fined, the marinas are all out of the centre. So it would be difficult for TO6411 to be seen. They said it is at least 600 extra miles.
Hmmmm…….time for a long hard think.
I still felt shaken after the boat attack and knew my spirits were squashed. Chloe back in Avignon had tried to get the 'French Press' Interested in Paris but no response. Much like my Friends in Italy had with the 'Italian press' when I left Lampedusa, but nothing.
So thought it best to way it all up. It was a long way to go for something that would have no coverage meaning no one would be expecting it. They said they were leaving in an hour or so and I could sail with them for a while. Time to think about it before the Paris turn off. Sounded like a plan.
We left Chalon around 3.00pm. The Canal de l'Aisne was left and the Canal Marne was straight on. I turned left and sadly Paris had just been dropped from the itinerary. If it had been easier then maybe. Felt a little strange not to be going but also I needed people at the moment.
After a few miles we headed into a lock but the gates would not close. A big VNF women slightly militant arrived and opened it. She said we could pass through one more but then it was six o'clock and time to close for pleasure craft.
The VNF when I was alone had let me always go until 7.00pm when they close for commercial craft. As they knew how much mileage I had to cover. Not this lady 'she was having none of it'.
We stopped in the middle of some fields and collected some firewood. It was cold at night now so it was always good to have a little fire. Esta and Arthur's boat had luxuries like hot coffee. A nice change. They made a stew and we ate and said good night.
Esta came by around 7.30 am saying they wanted to press on. We had a quick coffee and set off. Soon we came to a village and found a bakery. Esta and Arthur needed to get back to Amsterdam where they were from so they wanted to cover the mileage. I needed motivation that had really drained from me in the last week. I was fed up with the project, the boat and in general lost interest. I needed to get out of this mindset. They helped a lot with this sub-consciously.
We travelled non stop today. Glad to have a beer and some vegetables cooked over the fire that night. We stayed tied up next to some fields.
Esta and Arthur were keen to reach Reims today. I followed there boat in a bit of a daze. It was Saturday, oh no that means the Anglers will be out. Grumpy elderly men. Sitting alone under umbrellas with fishing rods that stick out to mid- stream and then scream at you if you get to close. Dead fish with nasty injuries to there mouths where hooks have been yanked out with pliers, litter the river. Personally my motto is 'only kill it if you are going to eat it.'
The landscape was littered all day with these men, dead fish and monotonous countryside.
We arrive in Reims around 2.00pm. The Haute Nautique is the most depressing in France that I have seen. It is built in to a motorway flyover. Serious security gates greet you. As do the local junkies camping next door under the flyover. The place is dusty and very depressing. I immediately refuse to spend the night here.
Esta has hatched a plan. She has already located a local Sunday flea market so we jump on our bikes and head to it. It is in the middle of a large housing estate. All sorts of household bits are up for grabs. I like an old vintage motor cycle 50cc very cute. Think about space for it on the boat but no room.
On to a supermarket to grab some supplies and at 6.00pm set off to find a more suitable place to stay over night. Reims has sprawling industrial estates by the canal and commercial barge ports and travellers camps and gravel mines. Sorts of places one dumps a murder victim.
Finally as it gets dark we reach a long stretch of the canal with woods on each side. We stop. Esta and Arthur are a little annoyed that we stopped so late it was me being bit of a princess.
We make a great fire and cook chicken and steaks and baked potatoes. Loads of great wine. It is much better out here then in the Haute Nautiques. They can feel very claustrophobic with all the pensioners peering at you. River boating definitely seems to appeal to older retired couples around here.
We all set off around 8.00am Esta is keen to find a bakery. This is good for me as I usually skip breakfast. She brings me a hot coffee and off they go. I say I will catch them up as they are really hasty in the mornings. Typical Dutch are very organised. Me typical English, live in a slightly eccentric chaotic and precarious mood. Not to planned out.
Their hastiness is beginning to annoy me. As one can start to feel sucked into someone Else's schedule. It was very cold in the morning. It had rained heavily overnight everything was soaking. The boat is puffing out a lot of smoke. It is teeming with rain and there is no place to stop.
Time to stop mid stream and call for help. The others arrive half an hour later. Esta and Arthur's boat also leaks from the roof of the cabin, They too are drenched. They kindly through me a line and tow me along behind. The day is miserable. No more coffee as the gas has run out too.
We arrive at Pinon and take shelter under the road bridge. We tie the boats up and head into town. The town is totally closed. It is 3.00pm and it is Monday. Everything is closed in France on Mondays in small places.
I walk in to town as it is raining to hard to cycle. Finally spot an Auberge. The owner makes us all some delicious coffee. Directs me to the car mechanics. He agrees to look at TO6411 after work, Joy.
The chef agrees to open the kitchen early in the Auberge so we can eat something hot. Pate followed by 'Confit de Curnard' fits the bill.
The mechanic arrives and we head down to the boat in his van. The rain has stopped. The boat is drenched inside and out. A piece of plastic had made its way up the water pipe to the impeller. He removes it and TO6411 fires herself up again on all cylinders. He leaves and we all say good night. The cabin is freezing and the duvet is soaking wet. I finally get to sleep in a haze of condensation.
A bright morning start. I try and lie the bedclothes out to air as the cabin is so damp. We set off early again after having a coffee with a chap whose house backs on to the canal. I feel a lot brighter then last week and much more confident. I go ahead of Esta and Arthur due to the speed variants with our boats. Passing some attractive countryside. We meet up and all get some diesel with Jerry cans. That night we moor up next to some fields. Sink a couple of bottles of wine.
We motor all day and arrive in Chauny. We stop at the Haute Nautique. Desperately need a shower and the laundry. It felt great to Freshen up. The town was pretty drab so decided to leave first thing.
I needed some warm clothes so wanted to head for St Quentin. I also decided I wanted some time alone so left the others and arrived in St Quentin around 12.00pm. St Quentin didn't have much to offer. So picked up some supplies at the supermarket and left.
Decide to head for the Riqueval tunnel. Built by Nepoleon and opened in 1810. Its 5670 meters long and operates twice a day by a towage system.At 3.30 pm and 7.00 am in the morning. One of the locks up to the tunnel is jammed so I call the VNF they take a while to arrive so I miss the 3.30pm slot and will have to wait until the morning.
I get up to the tunnel which is shrouded with forest. A couple of commercial barges have already settled down for the night. I decided to collect some firewood. It is very still up here at the summit. The canal is flanked with very steep forest cutting through the top of the hill. The air is thick with moisture and the chill as the sun fades starts lingering. I can see my breath first time in months. The evening dew is forming in small droplets covering the boat. It drips with condensation in the cabin. I close the cabin and wheelhouse up as the engine takes several hours to cool down and warms up the cabin a little at night.
I light a nice fire on the tow path next to the boat and wrap some potatoes in foil and stuff them in the embers. The barge drivers are huddled close by. They look over I think they see me as a water Gypsy. The smoke is wafting their way. They look slightly surprised as I start preparing a salad and steak on the path. I have got used to odd looks from people so I smile to myself. I am enjoying being alone again.
Esta and Arthur's boat show up. A couple of barges behind TO6411. They come and say 'Hi' and disappear back to their boat.
I eat my little feast and clean up the fire. Tidy it so well there is no evidence. I go to bed. The cabin feels really snug when your stomach is full.
Early start today as this tunnel has an electric barge. All the boats have to tie to each other and go in a convoy. From large to small. The barges are already manoeuvring with much shouting and revving of engines. One has pushed in front of the other causing uproar. We wait quietly at the back.
The barge I through my lines to is huge. he says my ropes are too thin. He throws me back some two inch thick rope. It is so big for a bowlin it is like tying a snake not a rope. I can't do anything with it. I tell him and he settles for my ropes. Esta and Arthur throw me their ropes.
Seven barges and our two boats make up the convoy. Every ones engines are turned off. We silently all enter the tunnel. It is quite hard to stir as the barge in front of me keeps zig zagging. This in turn makes it difficult for Esta and Arthur.
Half way through the electric barge brakes down. Everyone has to start there engines and fast to avoid all smashing in to one another. Everyone is yelling in French, Flemish and German. I don't understand what is going on. Then the front barge driver yells at me in English to start my engine and reverse as I am about to float into him and hit him. Phew manage in the nick of time. Barges are very unforgiving on wooden boats.
The electric tow starts again and we all lurch forward. Off again with our engines. As we reach the end of the tunnel everyone starts to untie there boats. The towing barge has manoeuvred to the side of the canal. This leaves the current on the overhead electric cables in the tunnel.
As a result the Aerial on TO6411 keeps catching the current. Massive sparks start flying in all directions. I start screaming as I am terrified. The aerial seems to be melting. I am terrified of electrics. The barge men all yell for me to turn my engine on and get the boat away from the cables.
Its impossible the cables are live all over the tunnel roof. I scream my way out of there. The barge drivers all shake their heads and look bemused. Its my first time I yell out. Wanting them to stop judging.
They are all passing each other now depending on there speeds. Once they have organised themselves TO6411 and Esta and Arthur's boat speed past. Esta had asked them all if we could go first in front of them. She was very good at being very direct. Something I am not rehearsed in.
After a couple of locks it was time to leave the canal de St Quentin and head on to the River Escaut. I went all day started to get hungry the river was wide with many commercial barges. It felt good to have some space again. Canals are very claustrophobic and cramped feeling. I was really fed up with navigating on these tiny ribbons of water.
The locks now were huge with full time staff like back on 'The Rhone'. So much easier. No fishing rods in sight either. No remotes and poles to deal with. Tying up was now again with hydraulic mooring posts. Much easier.
Stopped for the night at Etrun. Uneventful.
Set off early the boat is very wet in the mornings now. Morning dew sits on the wheel house and deck. I pass a very strange caravan boat.
More big easy locks. Very close to the Belgium border. Few hours later passing many derelict industrial sites .
I reach , Belgian just over the border. The yacht club is set in a big basin. They have a friendly clubhouse and all come out to look at TO6411. They are a really sweet local crowd. Offering food, drinks, laundry to dry out the duvet which was soaking wet. The clubhouse is warm. I am so happy.
|Peronnes Yacht Club.|
A Belgian Navy crew are in the harbour with their Dunkerque historic vessel. For a meeting of Dunkerque vessels the following morning. So we all have a very jolly night. They have great admiration for TO6411 and how far I have come. We discuss my crossing the channel in great depth. They are slightly overly concerned but I keep reminding them that I have come along way already.
The Dunkerque boat has left. One of the guys is still around and we drive into town and get some breakfast. Then it is time for me to head on. The weather is really cooling down and I feel I need to keep up with the mileage and plough on.
First Belgium lock. Very strange design. After waiting an hour and a half and watching several barges pass through they finally decide to give me a green light. Despite my requests several times. They don't want to speak English nor listen to my bad french.
In Fact they don't want to speak at all. I get so frustrated I start to cry I get into the lock and explode with tears. Really sobbing I don't know why. I think it is all getting a bit to much for me.
Deep down I am exhausted and feel close to breaking point all the time. I hadn't cried like that in years. Something inside had really snapped. I want to go home I keep thinking. Feel sick of being mis-understood and mis-interpreted. Time to go home back to London.
Belgium felt very different from the France no familiarity or joy it seemed. Boats passed no smiles or waves. Just blank expressions all day. I felt very isolated from anything familiar.
I got to Mons. Another big basin with a harbour in the far corner. Ate in the Marina restaurant and went to bed.
Left Mons around 10.00am. A big lock was ahead with a red light so decided to tie up. After about half an hour it turn green. Started preparing to leave the pontoon realised the propeller wasn't turning. Looked over and it had slipped out of the stern and was touching the rudder. Checked inside and the stern shaft tree had come apart. I needed some help. I saw some guys ahead on a bridge construction site.
I called to them and they came over. Luckily one had some engineering experience and I explained the shaft needed pulling through and bolting. They brought some cable belts down and hammered it back and bolted it firm. Good to have got some hot coffee as well. As it was a freezing mooring. The landscape was all semi industrial with ploughed fields.
Time to head for the Strepy -Thieu the worlds largest ship lift. Lifts boats in a water tank 73 metres in 7 minutes.
|At the bottom of the lift.|
|In the tank at the top.|
|View from top of the lift.|
Strepy - Thieu was very windswept. I waited for a green light after announcing on the radio that I wanted to use the lift. Finally someone responded that I could go at 2.30pm. I went in behind a huge barge and up we went. A very strange sensation. The boat is floating in a rectangular section of canal. the side wall closes and you ascend 73 meters. You then navigate out of the rectangular box which has become part of the canal. When you look behind you of course you just see sky. The landscape sitting several hundred feet below. The canal then carries on in a bridge form over the land and then becomes a regular canal again. Amazing.
I follow on to the Canal Charleroi-Brussels.
A couple of hours later I hit the 'Ronquières Inclined Plane' in Wallonia that opened in April 1968. The purpose of the construction was to reduce the delays imposed by 14 locks.
Its 1,432 meters and lifts boats through 67.73 meters vertically. It consists of two large tanks mounted on rails. Then it has a counterweight running in the trough below the rails, which permits the caisson to be moved independently of the other. Each caisson is pulled by 8 cables wound by winches located at the top end of the inclined plane.
|Tied up in tank.|
|Going down to re-join the canal below.|
The operator beckons me in. He helps me tie up in the tank. He is a very round elderly man. I can smell 'Jaegermeister' on his breathe. I am a bit concerned seeing he is operating this huge construction
It feels pretty strange going down a hill on wheels whilst sitting on your boat in a huge tank.
Amazing day of engineering feats. Loved it. By now it is twilight. I motor a couple of miles down the river and moor at Ittre. Tomorrow Brussels.
The landscape is quite industrial part residential. Very Urban. Still getting some slightly hostile reception from other boats and passers by. Its all a bit depressing after France. They were full of waves and smiles and greetings. As I pass through Brussels in the south I get a couple of cheers from some North African guys standing on a bridge. I notice there are no suitable moorings in the centre. Also the canal is several meters below the road. So no one would even see TO6411 in less they were on the side of the canal looking down into it.
I go and check the Yacht club moorings but decide to go an to Antwerp instead. I am thinking at this stage I want to get up to Amsterdam hopefully something familiar and more welcoming.
It is getting late in the day around 6.00pm I decide to stop in Willebroek and stay over night. Tomorrow I will hit my first tidal river 'The Scheldt' that I take to Antwerp. I find a mooring in a yacht club marina. I go to the clubhouse to check if is okay. They say no problem.
It is a really cold damp night. One can really feel that northern European chill. The days are heavy with clouds and the light is quite low. Crisp days are off the menu and dark autumn days are now part of the landscape.
There are few facilities so I go into a hotel backing on to the marina for some hot food to warm me up. They serve a hefty Belgian beef stew with fries. It is good to be indoors to dry out a little. I hang out in the hotel until it closes. Anything to stay in the warm.
I get some funny looks from other guests as I sit at the bar. My hands are always covered in black oil especially under my nails. People find this deeply disturbing on a relatively well dressed women. When they look at ones hands.
Back out to the boat as I ready to bed down for the night I notice I am the only boat with lights on in the marina. I look at the The Hotel and notice all the guest room lights on. Its a strange feeling. Inside outside. The cabin temperature is hovering on 2 degrees. My breathe steams up TO6411's windows. Night Night.
I get up late as I wait until 9.00 when the morning dew has lifted and it is not so cold to go out in ones pyjamas for a pee. It is cold on ones bottom perching on the side of the boat. Huge amounts of steam lift from the still water. It is to cold to dress outside these days and one has a terrible fight with oneself in the morning and at night trying to get dressed and undressed in such a small space.
Use the Internet in the hotel. Set off for Antwerp.
The lock at Willbroek that opens to take you on to 'the Scheldt' only opens with the tide is at a certain height otherwise the town would flood. I need to wait an hour for the tide to be right. The lock keeper is very kind and offers me some coffee and a sandwich in his office.
They say I look very cold, they are right as I need to get my car and winter clothes from Cunoa, Italy. I am still in Summer gear from Lampedusa. The weather has changed to quickly in the last few days to be able to pick up my stuff.
The Lock keeper gives me an old jersey. He takes some good images of TO6411 and promises to email them on. 'The Scheldt' is very very fast flowing. TO6411 starts speeding along at 10 knots fastest ever.
By around 6.00pm we arrive in Antwerp. It is getting quite dark already. I am finding it difficult to find the entrance to the lock. It lets you into Antwerp Harbour and off this river.
I radio asking to 'Lock in' The operator comes back in Flemish. I explain I don't understand Flemish. I am shocked this is a huge international port. Why he does not speak international shipping Language English.
Again I try and again and again. It is hard to keep the boat steady by the entrance to the lock. As there is no pontoon. I start to worry.
I radio again. He says he doesn't understand, He only speaks Flemish. Then I can hear him laughing on the other end before he switches off the radio at his end. I can't believe it.
By this time I have drifted down the river on an outgoing tide. It is nearly dark. I turn my navigation lights on. The port light immediately blows a fuse this also takes out the stern light.
Huge ships are thundering up and down the river a few meters from me. The only other option is the main lock, the sea lock. This is for huge container ships. I really don't want to have to use it. Also it is very dangerous with my port light not working. At the moment ships can only see my starboard and steaming light.
I never have been out at night no nighttime navigation on this trip. I promised my Guardia Coasteria friends back in Lampedusa I wouldn't do any night time navigation. Only once back in Sicily where no other boats were out. The water was very flat. with no ships and no fast flowing tide.
I can't make out anything. I feel very dis-orientated and slightly panic stricken. I tell myself saying it will be okay and stay calm. I keep saying it out loud.
I have drifted down near some petroleum works towards the Sea lock. I decide to turn a round and head up towards the city again. I hear a bang, maybe a car back firing I turn round and a huge container ship is right behind me. Maybe 100 meters away. I can tell he hasn't spotted me. I pull right over on my starboard he passes me within seconds and within 20 meters. I am already as far over on the starboard side of the river as possible. His bow wave sends TO6411 shooting off to the side. Whilst I try to keep her on course.
I get back close to where the lock entrance is and spot a police boat moored. I go straight over. Some men are in the cabin. I shout at them for help. That I am in danger on the river with my lights not working. I am abit of a nervous wreck.. They throw me some lines so I can tie alongside. I am so cold and stiff and wet. I could not feel my feet. I can't grab the lines. My hands had seized up. I tell them I need to go somewhere safe. The tide makes it very hard to come a alongside their boat. They jump on my boat and help tie up.
Then they bring me on their boat. They want to get me inside and say I am shivering, I hadn't even noticed. Their commander tells them to get me some coffee and a blanket. He says to the crew I am at the first stages of hypothermia. I am shaking so much I can't hold the cup. It is amazing how cold you can get. They sit me down and try to warm me up. I am very pleased to be with them.
I tell them about the lock and they are a bit pissed off, all rattling away to each other in Flemish. They say language here can be very political. I said 'yeah well that is really dangerous. Principles and local politics should not influence opening a lock for a foreign vessel entering the harbor'. They agreed.
They decided to take me and TO6411 to a hammer head pontoon on the river and tie up the boat. They advised tomorrow that I go into the harbour. They take TO6411 on the side of their boat over to the pontoon. They insist that I stay on their boat and stay warm whilst they sort out TO6411. They are very nice and really kind. They tie up TO6411 and drop me at the Pontoon. They say they will be patrolling at night and will keep an eye on me.
It was hard to sleep TO6411 was really creaking the tide was rushing under her at such a rate. It was like being a flea trying to sleep on top of a storm drain. I kept going to check the lines they were incredibly taught. I was quite scared and didn't sleep.
I must have dozed off as at around 7.00am there was a boat mooring on the pontoon. I looked out and it was an Antwerp waterways/harbour boat. Like a tug boat. They beckon me over and give me some coffee. They had heard about what had happened. Saying that this lock operator was a total idiot. I agreed. He put me at risk, over local language issues.
They advised that the lock was closing at 9.00am for works and that I should 'lock in ' fast. Quickly got organised and followed them over. I was keen to get off this river.
The Antwerp Yacht harbour was right in the city centre. I moored the boat up and had a quick shower and went out for breakfast. The facilities were very expensive. They gave you a key which charged you for every second you spent in the shower. Then I asked the harbormaster If it was possible to have a free space but he said he didn't believe in humanitarian projects. Antwerp was celebrating 150 years of 'the Scheldt river' being toll free. A huge flotilla of boats was gathering on Saturday to celebrate. All sorts of boats. I asked if TO6411 could take part. He said no it not the right sort of boat and it would be to late.
Not the right sort of boat?
I would of thought it would be a really good representative considering the diverse mix of people in Antwerp. Later I found out that I could have joined in if he had given me the organisers number. They were setting up a huge stage on the side of the marina. I pottered around for the rest of the day.
Woke up early as someone boarded the boat and then jumped off around 6.00am by the time I had put my head out to check they had disappeared I quickly checked my bike was still on board, it was. I went back to sleep.
Few hours later I got up and found a big bag on the deck. I opened it up and was overjoyed by what was inside. A fantastic thermal insulated waterproof jumpsuit, pair of wellington boots, a balaclava, thermal gloves, Special torch. A china Buddha, Sunglasses, a big cable knit jersey.
|Cold weather Gear.|
A note from one of the Antwerp harbour board men Saying 'stay warm and dry'. They had got together and given me a whole outfit. Really sweet gesture. Everyone was a bit concerned by my lack of suitable clothing. I needed to pick up my stuff from Italy and fast. I called them and said a very big thank you.
The suit was quite big but super toasty I looked like a Telly tubby in it. One of the guys came down and showed me how I should wear it and put the life vest inside it.
Later I went into town. pottered about. Decided that I would leave and go on to Dordracht but the grumpy old harbormaster said he didn't have time to give me any fuel as I needed some and that I would have to stay another night, He was a bad tempered miserable ex military character.
Using his tiny provincial authority to full capacity. Luckily these uncivilised 'little Nepoleons' had been few and far between, Only five to date.
Many boats were coming into the harbour for the flotilla. I got up put my fabulous new suit on . Went to get some fuel. They seemed very pissed off that I wanted to bother them with buying fuel. Finally they agreed to let me have some. I had asked yesterday. These men weren't used to relating to women skippers. Seemed to have a few issues with it and TO6411. Time to go.
The harbour of Antwerp is huge luckily it seemed pretty quite. It took a couple of hours to get through it. Before joining a canal to take me up to Dordracht. The canal was busy with commercial barges passing all day. It was quite wide so that helped.
It was a good route as it missed Antwerp and Rotterdam Sea locks, and the busy shipping lanes around the coast. Huge ships passed me on the first section as they made there way down to the Sea Locks. Then on to Zealand the route was full of windmills and the waterway really opened up to a vast expanse. With plenty of room. So you could be some distance from the bigger vessels. You do get used to them after a while. Plenty of people here were sailing. Lots waves and thumbs up to TO6411 it was a nice afternoon. Definitely had arrived in The Netherlands.
A huge lock appeared one of the biggest in Europe. With massive ships entering. It had four separate lanes. About 1000 meters long.
I didn't see any other small craft then saw a sign 'sport' Thought that must be for small craft and I was right.
This lock was quite as you would expect. It was around 5.00pm and time to stop for the night. I went to Willemstad. Really sweet marina. Lovely people and a happy harbour master all good. The neighbouring boat had plenty of advice on which route I should take up to Amsterdam. So decided to go with it.
Left around 10.00 am. I was just outside Dordracht when the Dutch Water Authorities came over.
They came alongside asking if I had come in one of the sea locks and had I come directly from Africa?
'No' I answered 'I have just come from Willemstad and before that Antwerp'. I cracked up laughing. They were laughing as well.
They were asking why I was wearing a Antwerp Waterways suit. That was far to big for me.
They offered me a coffee and checked my papers then totally relaxed. Complemented me on my excellent Helmsman ship. They had been watching me for a few miles. Nice, some equality for a change.
One of the guys wanted to come on TO6411 and drive her. I was quite happy. They were laughing at me because I was tied on with a big rope. I explained if it was windy I always tied myself on just in case I fell off the back.
He drove To6411 into Dordracht and the harbour which they share with the Dutch Police and Military. I asked what there role on the rivers was. They said controlling vessels and bridges and fishing suicide victims out of the river.
I had explained that I was flying down to Italy the following day to pick up my car and drive it back to Dordracht. They loved the project and offered to take care of TO6411 whilst I went to Italy to pick up my car. Really sweet. Packed her up and they gave me a lift to the station to catch the train to Charleroi.
I arrive at Charleroi train station around 9.00pm. Police and sniffer dogs search everyone as we leave the train platform . I am shocked never had this before.
Catch a 7.00am Ryan air flight to Turin from Charleroi. Arrive in Turin. Get a train to Cunoa. Pick up my car where it was being stored. Start driving back to Dordrecht. Stop for the night in Tournus, France.
Get up early and carry on driving all day. Arrive in Dordrecht at 9.00pm. Go to bed. Shattered.
Set off late for Amsterdam. After spending time with the harbour staff. They offer to look after the car whilst I take TO6411 up to Amsterdam. At least now I have warm clothes. I take the non commercial route. It is quite slow but very scenic with sweet Dutch villages along the route. Some really huge commercial waterways to cross especially outside Rotterdam. To get to the quitter route. The Rotterdam one was really busy. Stop start, stop start. As I insist on always going behind any vessel larger then myself. It was funny one tanker stopped for me to pass in front of his stern. I still went around his bow. I am a bit paranoid of big ships. In fact completely phobic about them, Especially as TO6411 is so little.
Arrive in Gouda. No Marina as such just some posts on the side of the canal. It was only 31 km up to here from Dordrecht. Feel a bit grotty as no shower for a couple of days. Decide to go to bed early. Nieck and Martijn my Gallerists from Upstream Gallery has arranged for a Press Conference in Amsterdam on my arrival at The Lloyd Hotel at 2.00pm. The Lloyd hotel have offered to host the boat in Amsterdam and me. Really excited as it is a fantastic hotel and great location for the boat.
I get up at 6.30am. It is still dark. I am really excited to be going to Amsterdam and seeing my friends. People that know me really well. I hadn't seen anyone really close to me for months. They are so supportive of what I am doing and what TO6411 is doing. It makes a huge difference.
I leave as soon as it gets light around 7.30am. Been going about an hour and reach Boskoop. They are doing works on the bridge that I need to pass under. The women on the radio says I cannot go through until a commercial barge comes through at the same time at 9.30 am. I pretty annoyed I explain I need to be in Amsterdam for 2.00pm. She says 'tough.'
I ring my water board friends down in Dordrecht they can't persuade her either. Tie up to a pontoon with no excess to the land and wait. No coffee, No breakfast. At 9.40 am the bridge opens. On I go more long waits on the bridges opening. Nieck keeps calling to check my progress. I explain that they are all taking an hour each. I feel like they are all going slowly on purpose. Making me wait for commercial traffic every time.
By 12.00 pm I am at least an hour behind schedule. It is difficult trying to navigate a boat under pressure. It is not like a car. I go as fast as I can but all these bridge lifts really hold up the process.
A railway bridge is in front. I slow down and they say 25 minutes so I tie up to the pontoon.
I get a green light, untie the bridge opens. A commercial barge comes through downstream.. I set off once he has passed. The light is on green. I am less then 20 metres from passing the bridge and it starts to close really fast. I slam TO6411 into reverse. She has a lot of momentum behind her and is always very slow to react.
The bridge is now shut and I am about to hit a huge wall of concrete. She is not slowing fast enough despite me having her on full throttle. I start swearing as I am really freaking out. Some men on the side have stop ed working and look astonished. There is nothing I can do and no place to turn her port or starboard. I close my eyes and my heart is pounding.
She comes to a stop and starts reversing about 3 inches from the concrete wall. I am still in reverse and tie her back to the pontoon. I go up the wall. The workers on the side come down to see if I am OK. I asked if they saw it. Which I knew they did as they were all checking me out as I approached in the beginning. They could not believe it either. I got on the radio and requested that they re-open the railway bridge. I go nuts at them on the radio. Totally pissed off especially after the Antwerp incident.
I ask why they give a green light then shut the bridge in my face. They say a train was coming. They train never came. I am furious they could have killed me. The men were also shocked and upset for me. The bridge re-opens I pass.
I radio ahead for the following bridges but they also make you tie up then open it as soon as you have tied up and turned the engine off. I am not impressed with these bridge operators at all. Non of this type of bullshit in France.
At 2.00pm I have reached Schiphol airport still at least another hour to Amsterdam. With 10 bridges to go. That have to be opened through the city. Nieck is calling to see where I am and trys to keep the journalists at the stop.
Luckily two barges turn up in front of me. I work really hard to keep up with them. The bridges start opening one after another. The barges have really slowed down as the bridge distances become smaller and smaller going through the Amsterdam Necklace. I stick right behind one a couple of metres from his bow. So the bridge operator can't close the bridge between me and the barge. The bridges are closing each time right behind my bow. Its all ab it hair raising.
Finally get out into the Amsterdam harbour. I go full pelt down to the Lloyd Hotel.
The Police turn up on there boat and pull me over. I ask what they want they want to see my papers. I hand them over. They look at them and hand them back. They order me to a Police Pontoon. I ask why and they say they want more information. Over we go to the Police Wharf.
I can see the Lloyd hotel and The Press, Nieck and some other people waiting on the wharf. He calls me I explain what is going on.
The Police interview me for about 10 minutes I explain I am trying to get to my Press Conference. They have issues with where the boat is from. How I acquired it. I explain the whole story. They say they want to check it they don't seem to believe it. More Time.
Five minutes later they come back. They are now super nice and offer to escort me over to The Lloyd Hotel. I politely declined and told them they would be cramping my style. I race over to The Pier to a small crowd of cheers and claps.
It feels great to be finally in Amsterdam. I am greeted with a lovely glass of Champagne and we all have a toast. The Press take lots of Images of the boat and race off as they want it in The Papers the next morning.
I am super happy to see Nieck and I meet Suzanne the hotel owner and some of her colleagues. Nieck cannot believe the state of the boat, in fact I think everyone is a bit shocked. Suzanne gets me some hot soup as I am starving as nothing to eat all day. We moor the boat.
They say they have a surprise for me. They have made me a special room in the Hotel. Suzanne points up to the tower. Which has a gorgeous gold ship on top. I get a great welcome in the hotel. We all go up to the top floor.
Suzanne opens the door to a gorgeous turret room. At the base of the turret. Its full of art books. Flowers and Fruit. It is super cosy. At the back of the room there is a beautiful old wooden spiral staircase. It winds its way up to the top of the tower. It has an amazing view of Amsterdam and the harbour. and Suzanne says I can keep an eye on my boat which is miles down below us. I love it. I was really touched Suzanne had put a lot of time and energy into making this space up with her staff. She is one super fabulous women. She designed all the spaces in the Lloyd and the concept. The room was a super surprise.
It was very poinant for the Lloyd Hotel to be hosting TO6411 and me. The Lloyd was built as an emigrant Hotel back in 1920. Royal Dutch Lloyd built the Lloyd Hotel along the IJ-quay, from where their migrant ships departed.
Everyone really loved TO6411 here. It made a big difference to her and me.
Nieck and Suzanne and I had more champagne and a gorgeous meal in the restaurant. I took a lovely hot shower and went to bed in a dry warm space. With a lovely big fluffy duvet. I was super happy. I popped up the tower to make sure TO6411 was okay. She sat happily under the flood lights. Blow her a good night kiss.
I wake up and potter down to the hotel restaurant. There is a humongous gorgeous buffet breakfast. Every taste catered for. Juices, smoothies, ten varieties of bread, loads of patisserie, cereals yoghurt's. etc i have a long breakfast. The Lloyd Hotel cultural Embassy introduces me to a Korean film crew who are staying and want to film TO6411. Finish breakfast going over the project. I feel really tired today. You come in from the cold and survival mode and your body I think just crashes. I could hardly keep awake all day. So just pottered around this totally gorgeous hotel. Such a different world to what I have been experiencing. Total culture shock in a brilliant way.
I took TO6411 over to her night mooring in the yacht club on the side of the Lloyd.
Crashed out in my super cosy room. All the conversation today was very exhausting. It is hard communicating so much after spending so much time alone.
Nieck had arranged a party at the boat for 5.00pm and dinner. I needed a mechanic/engineer to look at the stern shaft. As I was concerned about it slipping again. At an inconvenient time like when crossing 'The Channel'. The sailing club manager had given me the number of a chap called Gerome. He was coming down to meet me at the boat. He took a look and said he would like to take it out to drill a hole in the shaft to stop it slipping.
He invited me over to his barge on Sunday. I also wanted to get a spare impeller. So we picked one up and fitted it.
In the afternoon I decided to cycle into town and have lunch and do some shopping. I came back and got ready for the reception. Lots of old faces came from The Gallery which was super nice. It was great to see so many familiar faces all a bit overwhelming. Everyone really enjoyed the boat and sat on board. I took them for a ride down to the Yacht club. We had a fabulous Dinner Party in the hotel. Really great evening lots of tales to tell about the trip.
Sunday morning nice big breakfast. Great. Newspapers. General pottering around the hotel. Could easily become a permanent feature in this place it is totally lush. The staff are fabulous and lots of interesting looking people coming and going. The place has a great atmosphere.
It is very strange to be indoors permanently and to be in rooms again. To have a bathroom and hot water. To be able to charge an appliance. To sleep in a bed. To be able to get dressed and undressed in private. Instead of on the boat secretly so no one saw. As men always try to find a way of watching. Probably playing pocket billiards at the same time. Yuck.
Gerome comes to the hotel at 1.00pm and we take TO6411 down the harbour and round to his fantastic old Russian Tug Boat. Built like an icebreaker it is a truly amazing looking vessel. All original inside. Gerome flys all over the world fixing ship engines so I am very lucky he is happy to look at TO6411. The neighbouring boat to Gerome's is extraordinary too it is piled sky high with all sorts of boating and shipping equipment and bits and pieces.
|Geromes boat and TO6411.|
|The neighbors boat.|
Gerome sets about taking out the stern shaft. He isn't happy with it slipping either. He thinks it is because the joints are two far apart. This is because the engine needs re-aligning. That is making the pressure on the stern tree. The angles are out slightly. That's a huge job.
He decides to drill a new bolt fixing into the shaft to stop it slipping. It seems to work much better and he thinks the original bolt will not unscrew all the time now. Making the propeller slip out the back. Joy.
I run her back to the sailing club. Meet some old Friends for a drink.
Pottered around The Lloyd. Wrote this blog. Lovely relaxing day. Talked to people about To6411 and the purpose of the trip.
Continue writing this blog. Cycle in to town and have some sushi. Meet Gerome who wants to lend me his hand held radio. As I lost mine in the chaos back in San Vincenzo. Geronne is really worried about me crossing the channel. He makes me feel really anxious. I try to change the subject. I need to stay focused at this stage for the last lap. I remind him I have come a long way already. We say good bye.
Suzanne has arranged a meeting later today with a commercial Captain Friend who is going to explain the best way for me to get back down to Belgium and head across the channel.
As tomorrow I plan to leave. I prepare the boat and pack up my room. I go and find a huge bunch of flowers for Suzanne and her amazing staff. It has been great staying here for a few days. I feel really refreshed. But I need to get back on the boat. Now its getting really cold. Also I am very aware I am out of my routine. The longer I leave it the harder it will be to get back into it.
The trip has been all about a really strict routine. It takes alot of self discipline. That is the only way to manage something like this. With so many people around you loss your focus that you have when you are alone. It is a really intense self focus. You have to stay really sure of yourself.
Nieck, Suzanne and The captain arrive. The Captain comes by, he is doubting me at first and asking me a lot of questions checking out how much I know after a few minutes he realises I do know what I am doing and relaxes. He even admits this later on over dinner. We discuss the passage and do some planning. He offers to write it up for me. Drop it by in the morning.
Get up early and check out of the room. I didn't sleep well last night. I was anxious about the next leg of the journey. It felt strange setting up the boat again after such a long break of six days. I was looking forward to being alone again as it had been quite intense with so many people around after being alone for so long. Said all my good byes.
The captain came by and dropped off the passage plan. I left around 9.30am. Headed for Utrecht. I didn't want to do the previous route back to Dordrecht. I couldn't face all those bridges again. To days route would have a lot of commercial traffic but was a lot faster.
I stopped on the way out of Amsterdam and got some fuel. The route was busy, only barges. Very few pleasure vessels were around now as the season had finished.
It was a boring trip down to Utrecht. People were giving me and the boat strange very somber looks. I was getting a lot of texts on my phone all morning but it was in the wheelhouse. I had to stop to be able to go and get it.
I stopped for a bridge looked at my phone messages. A Friend Hugo Brown had text ed saying a migrant boat had gone down near Lampedusa and there were several people missing. I was very sad to see the news. I had very little reception and tryed to get BBC news but it was not possible.
A huge lock the 'Beatrixsluizen' sprawled out in front. It was around 250 metres long. I was surrounded by massive commercial barges. TO6411 was the only small craft. A huge ship turned up right next to me. I looked up to a wall of steel about 50 foot high. The crew were outside pointing and talking about TO6411. They waved. No sign of a 'sport' lock for small craft. I radioed ahead and was told to wait on the starboard side of the canal. It was a double lock side by side. The ship was careful not to create to much wash as he moved forward. I went in behind him. The commercial craft are pretty good at watching out for us little guys.
It was getting late and the landscape was flat full of fields and dyke's. The air was very damp and chilly. I wanted to find somewhere for the night. It was a strange feeling after the luxury of the Lloyd Hotel. Back to reality feeling. I had entered the river Lek a tidal river going downstream I had picked up speed. I saw a tiny marina entrance and decided to stop. The village was called Nieuwpoort. I tied up it was getting dark. Marina was in a u shape with a series of small jetty's. There was no electrics at my mooring and no facilities just a tiny office building.
I walked into the village it was totally 'chocolate box' very quaint with rows of perfect Dutch cottages, dykes and foot bridges. You felt you could pick these tiny monuments up and eat them. As if the place were made of marzipan. Eventually through these 'pin drop quiet' streets I found a lively bar.
Half way through my sandwich I heard the word 'Lampedusa' from a TV in the corner. It was strange to hear the word 'Lampedusa' in this place. The news was tragic, a story of a migrant boat carrying 500 people had sunk less then a mile off Lampedusa. So close I thought. It said hundreds of people were feared to have drowned.I felt really depressed wandering how that could have happened so close to the island.
So many of these boats, so many deaths, so much cruelty in these voyages.
I immediately thought of my friends in The Guardia Costiera. They must be having to do a terrible job right now. I know it is very traumatic for them at times as well as for the migrants. TO6411 and this journey has always been is a tribute to their work as well as about the migrants on board. The rescuers, the survivors and the perished.
I remember back in April my Friend Vito a Guardia Costiera officer being a bit stressed out in a cafe. He explained two teenage boys had set off to Lampedusa from Tunisia two days ago. In a small dingy. The boys father had contacted Italy to see if they had arrived. They hadn't. Vito feared the worst. I remember not knowing what to say, I was shocked they had left to come all that way in a dingy. I kept saying to Vito. In a dingy! In a dingy!
Later that day I noticed Guardia Costiera boat arrive in The military Zone with its light flashing. Normally it meant a landing of people. It looked empty, I thought that was strange.
Later I saw Vito on Via Roma with a big smile on his face . He said they had found the two boys in the dingy about four miles south of Lampedusa. The boys were tired but OK. We were both elated.
Many times in Lampedusa there were rescues and migrants found on boats by The Guardia Costiera. With stories from the survivors that some of the passengers had died on board or drowned and had to be buried at sea by the remaining passengers . They barely make the news often.
In September 2012 Traffickers took a boat with an estimated 95 migrants on board to within a few hundred metres of Lampione Island. A small uninhabited island 10 miles from Lampedusa. The traffickers told the migrants to strip to there underwear and then ordered the migrants overboard. The traffickers took of back to North Africa leaving the migrants in the water.Those who could swim made it to Lampione. 56 people were found by the Guardia Costiera a few hours later standing on the rocks of Lampione. Many had drowned as they couldn't swim. At first it was reported the boat had sunk but then their would have been evidence. These traffickers are so brutal their actions are beyond description.
I began to question, is it the shear number of deaths this time that has moved the Media in to action?
I took a stroll into the village and meet a couple of Australians looking a bit lost and dumbfounded. They had moored on the river in a big motor boat. They had heard about TO6411 and wanted to know more. We tryed to find a cafe but everything was closed. They were going off up towards Norway, I was off towards Dordrecht so we said our goodbyes.
I made my way down to Dordrecht. I felt deeply melancholic about Lampedusa and the last two years organising this journey. About the migrants yesterday. About this re-volving door of no change.
In the Arab Spring in March 2011. I was filming migrants story telling of their crossings at sea. They witnessed boats of people sinking close to Libya and still now in 2013 nothing has changed. Would the media fly in to Lampedusa with this latest tradegy like they did back in 2011 and fly out again. Or would they start responsibly reporting regularly so the EU will change its policies. But then would Policy Change stop this? I wandered.
All these thoughts running around in ones head all day. About the attitude to this boat as well. Constantly feeling people wanted me to take the boat away from their doorstep. What could they do about it. Sorry if TO6411 is to much for your senses. There is a big difference between a television screen and the real thing. This is where TO6411 had really worked.
Today was a very tough day emotionally processing so many thoughts. I could really feel the pain too that Lampedusa must have been going through. The migrants, the islanders and all the rescue workers.
These days have been in note form only now 20th November have I felt ready to share them. I wander still if it is right too. TO6411 felt like a symbol of hope and death together. Tough sailing days.
I arrive in Dordrecht back in the Dutch Water Authorities harbour. They kindly offer to keep the car and trailer in their car park saying I can keep it there for the next week or so. Great I can go on to Belgium. I have a bit of lunch in their canteen and set off again.The route is easy for the next few miles because I did it from Antwerp to Dordrecht. I go through the 'Hollands Diep' and along the Volkerak many big ships and large junctions. Through the 'Volkeraksluizen'. The landscape is beautiful wetlands dotted with islands. Misty and calm and soft.
I arrive at the Krammer Sluizen. After this lock it is back onto a tidal river. It is getting late. I want to stop so I head for Bruinisse. A small yacht is following from the Krammer sluizen.
I tye up and the small yacht stops in front. A Dutch couple come over and introduce themselves Annick and Marc I needed a bit of human comfort. They invite me in for dinner. we talk over my proposed route. They warn it is a very busy tidal navigation and come up with an alternative with less big ships. They think I should go via Vlissingen and Middelburg. Instead of the proposed route via Hansweert and Terneuzen down to Ghent. They want to sail with me some of the way down to Vlissingen. The weather to navigate down the coast to Nieuwpoort after Vlissingen is good so I decide to go that way with them.
Annick comes by with a big bag of snacks for me. She says we are off in 20 minutes. I get organised quickly. She wants to try to get a story about TO6411 in the local paper so she is going to call a couple of journalists . They are a really sweet couple. We set off down the Veerse meer. The day is bright and the weather is calm. Many yachts out today racing. Its fun sailing with someone else. So relaxing I just followed them all morning. Sometimes we sail together then they get ahead. Really easy and takes my mind off from thoughts about the last couple of days.
We stop at Veere to pass through the lock. A Journalist from PZC Newspaper comes with a photographer and takes some images of TO6411 and interviews me whilst in the lock. Quite funny as she is yelling questions down at me and I am yelling the answers up to her on the path at the top of the lock wall. Then lots of people start questioning about TO6411. A whole debate starts between all the boats.
I had always been a bit envious of journalists. When I left school I wanted to be a War Correspondent. My family pushed me in to art instead. Saying I stood no chance War Correspondents were all Oxford Grads. One unfulfilled ambition. Then lock keeper tells us all to move on as other boats are waiting.
Outside the lock we moor back on a canal until the sea tomorrow. Annick and Marc want to introduce me to Friends who have a yacht and are meeting us to discuss my crossing the channel. They are really sweet to have set this up. They arrive Michele and her partner Eric.
We passage plan all together. Michele has sailed across the channel several times. She is full of great advice.
|Annick, Marc, Michele and Eric.|
Michele gave me a whole set of charts as well for this new section as I only had charts for the intended passage. It was time to leave I was off down to Vlissingen via Middleburg. As I had to be at Middleburg for 6.00pm as they open the six bridges down to Vlissingen twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening.
So I said my goodbyes and made my way down the canal to Middelburg. Straight canal no commercial traffic. I reached Middelburg an hour later. I meet a lovely yacht called Stevelyne and the skipper Paul and his crew. We were all going to Vlissingen and two hours later had passed all the bridges. We moored next to each other and they asked me on board for supper.
|Paul and Crew.|
Had a great evening drank some heavy Dutch liquors. Nice. They were going to Nieuwpoort early tomorrow. At sunrise. The weather report warned of heavy fog. Paul said I could follow them. As it was a bit tricky with ships and ferries on the other side of the lock it was the mouth of the Westernscheldt which went straight to Antwerp. It had many big ships and commercial craft. The tide was good to go first thing to get down the coast. We had five hours of tide on our side. I decided to follow as fog was a whole new experience for me. So was tidal navigation at sea alone. I had only done Tidal sea waters in Europe at Sea School in Ipswich. In New Zealand one was always in a crew. The skipper had always taken care of tides.
Got up at 6.30am it was still dark. The boys in the yacht were all still asleep no lights. I organised TO6411 checking her oil, water intake hose, Grease for stern shaft, Bilge pumps. All the checks every morning the same. The boys showed up and announced we were off in ten minutes. I liked this mini flotilla business it was much easier. I was nervous but they said they had Marine radar so I just had to stick close to them. If a ship came they would inter-ship radio me.
The sun rose but it was really super foggy. Visibility was 10 metres max at first. We went through the lock. Off they went ahead. All I could see was there mast light . I felt really scared. I got really nervous. Total white out apart from their light. Sometimes they would go out of sight and I completely panicked. I kept thinking of something the size of the 'Titanic' crashing into me. This all went on for an hour and half the fog started to lift. I had my chart plotter but for the rest........
Got down to Zeebrugge, Paul and Crew were a speck in the distance but at least now I could see. Now it was clear. Lots of boats out and the day warmed up. It was a good feeling on The Channel. Some huge ships passed. The weather was so good I nearly thought about going over today to the UK. It was 12.00pm and 70 miles from here at Zeebrugge to Ramsgate and 50 miles from Nieuwpoort to Ramsgate.
So decided to stay in Nieuwpoort as planned overnight. It was to late already and to far today with sunset at 6.30pm. There was a regatta on outside Nieuwpoort so really busy but fun.
Got into Nieuwpoort harbour found a berth and tied up. Paul came over with crew in tow. Happy to see I had made it. I told him the fog terrified me 'Like gorillas in the mist'. He laughed.
They left and I pottered about preparing TO6411 and myself for tomorrow. I felt quite nervous about crossing the channel it was a big stretch of very cold unpredictable open water. I hadn't been across a stretch of open water alone like this accept with Franco when crossing from Lampedusa to Sicily.
In the rest of Italy and France I always had land insight and it was very comforting. I decided to leave a message with my passage plan on facebook and exactly when I was leaving. Also exactly when I hoped to arrive in the UK. A lot of people were very concerned about the channel and my crossing it. I left a message but didn't want to alarm everyone to much. It was kind of awkward. Fear is a good thing. You should never feel over confident with the sea. One should be very wary of her.
Up at sunrise. Checking the forecast. Tide not great but I need to get back. Its getting colder. I have a few hours on my side tide wise leaving Nieuwpoort. The fog is really thick this morning. I can't see me hand. I think about what time I will be crossing the shipping lanes. The problem is I can't see right now. Despite people advising to leave at sunrise fog or no fog. I am not happy to set out. I know it will lift. One can just follow the chart plotter I thought but if one doesn't feel comfortable then that's it. Don't do it. I wanted to wait. Around 8.45am it starts to lift. I leave.
It is a great feeling to finally nearly be back home in old Blighty. I am really excited. All I can think about is my home shores and all things associated with them. Sunday papers, Walks in London parks, London Pubs with local brew and Boardgames. Going out and having the choice of restaurant from every corner of the globe. Restaurants which one has frequented for over 25 years. Like La Hoare Kebab House on Umberston Street. Ordered their chicken tikki roll now for all these years, never disappointed. Walking past your local shopping parade with all sorts of exotic fruit and veg some I have never tried but I love that they are their. Sitting on a tube everyone always trying to avoid eye contact. The awkwardness of the British. Being somewhere familiar.
Arh not long now. Fish and Chips in Ramsgate on the harbour wall, a few hours away.
I set out the fog lifts. The channel is not easy once I am about 12 miles out. The waves are very short and high and choppy with lots of current. It is full on keeping course. Like navigating in a large pot of boiling stew. The automatic bilge pump has stopped functioning. I can hear water sloshing about down there in those bilges.
I am tired, start feeling very tired. it is a very bumpy old ride. I have to tie myself on, just in case. It is way to bumpy to go down and check. Like outside of Trapani but the sea is'nt brown looking there. The colour of the sea here makes it feel much more theatening. Really cold thick and murky. That fact I can hear the water down there worries me.
I come across a whole necklace of ships evenly spaced coming from the West. They are all huge container ships. I have to get across their lane. You have to go a right angle across the shipping lane so closest point to point.
I remember the Belgian Naval crew back in Peronnes poking fun and being silly saying 'TO6411 crossing the channel is comparative to trying to cross the M25 in a 'zimmer frame'. Thanks Guys, boast that confidence.
Best bet I thought was to pass the next ship right behind its stern literally on the bow wave and get across before the next one. So I slowed down and waited. A big Container ship came and I headed for his middle knowing by the time he passed me I would be at his stern.
Another ship in the necklace was 2000 metres behind him and next one after that. 'Bunny in the headlights.'
I passed right behind him 30 metres from his stern, very bumpy over his bow wave and wash. Tough staying on course and very tiring. I just wanted to see land but none yet.
I got feed up with the chart plotter so stuck with my compass bearing always preferred it to the chart plotter. I found this with Franco. He couldn't understand why I couldn't stay on course with the chart plotter but was perfect with the compass. Never been keen on new technology. I like the 'old school'. Silly little symbol of a boat on those chart plotters. The compass rules in my book. That's all we ever used in New Zealand.
It was a continuous fight to stay on course for the next few hours finally an offshore wind farm. Joy. The wind calms down and I see England. I start humming (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover" the Second World War song made famous by Vera Lynn.
I feel real joy looking at that land, looking at home. Tears of joy roll down my face. I think a lot about TO6411 being here it is all a bit weird and overwhelming. I want to celebrate but no alcohol on board. Even if their was never when navigating. In fact not once did I drink whilst navigating, not even a beer. Only bottled water on this boat for the whole trip. I get really high on 'drink additives and e numbers' in soft drinks. So did'nt even have coke cola. They are a bit dangerous for me.
I have been so strict on myself. Really hard on oneself. You have to be. When its only you.
Into the harbour channel into Ramsgate harbour. Ramsgate looks fabulous today. Total joy to see this town. A group of Marina staff are on the side of the harbour wall. They direct me to a berth. They are all super friendly and can't believe where I have come from and that TO6411 has just crossed the channel. They harbourmaster is a bit upset with me because I just came in. In the UK you have to request permission to enter the harbour. I had completely forgotten this rule. In the rest of Europe you just rock up. I apologise over the radio to him. opps......
The Marina staff all ask if customs came over to me in this boat. They seemed a bit surprised that no one had intercepted me. A lot of people come over with congratualations its really nice. Totally overwhelming to have arrived.
I run up to the Yacht club. Straight onto facebook to annouce my arrival and that I am safe and sound. Whats more I said I would arrive between 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm. I was typing at 6.30pm. Not bad I thought. Swiftly ordered a pint.
Onto food I thought, straight out for cod and chips and mushy peas. Happy days.
Slept really well. Went to cafe and ordered a huge cooked breakfast. Heaven. With the usual British tabloids on the tables.
Sorted the boat out in the morning. Meet a crew with their yacht which is heading up the Thames. I get busy sorting out the bilge pump connection. Their is a bit of oil in the bilges so I go and get some special rags to absorb it.
Meet the Harbour master who very kindly gives me a free birth. Whilst I am at Ramsgate. Hang out and relax. Take a old milk float for a spin round the harbour. Crash out.
Decide to try to meet the other crew from yesterday up in Queenborough, Sheerness. The Marina staff have said that the weather is going to get really bad for the next few days. So either stay here for the next five days or go this morning. As it is 40 miles to Queenborough . Another 40 miles to London after that. Decide to go. Although I am tired yesterday was a good chill out day.
Head to Queenborough. The weather is already changing rapidly. Tomorrow they are expecting Gale force winds of 35-40 knots. That means big big waves. It takes 7 hours to get to Queenborough and by the last two hours the wind is at 12 knots the waves in the Thames estuary are big. Its super cold with the wind chill. I am tied on, clinging to the rudder stick by the time I reach Queenborough.
The 'Sea Biscuit' yacht crew are tied up to the hammerhead and cheer loudly as I tie alongside. It is getting dark and the wind is horrendous. TO6411 is getting a real bashing. We try to protect her with loads of fenders and springer lines and hope for the best. We all head to the pub. 'The Old House at Home'.
Beverly the landlady is an absolute hoot. She is wonderfully loud and gregarious. Talks non stop. We hit it off straight away. Have a great meal and fun with the locals.
We all walk back to the mooring. TO6411 has almost lost her canopy. We try our best to fix it. In howling wind at 11.00pm all a bit worst for wear. I settle down to sleep. The cabin is so cold, I can't sleep. It is so damp in here. The wind howls around all night. I think this is it. My last night in here in my 2 x 3 meter home since 20th June.
The 'Sea Biscuit' crew all decide to leave they are going to The Medway. They have a window of calm before the afternoon when the weather turns again for three days maybe four.
We go and talk to Beverly she offers me a room above the pub. TO6411 was absolutely freezing last night. Enough, Enough. I can't take it any more in that cabin. Its crazy cold now.We go and talk to Grapham he runs the local marina which is private. He also arranges to meet me at 2.00pm to get TO6411 off the hammerhead and into his place. The environmental agency are closing the lock gates at the entrance of his marina and the flood barriers around Queenborough.
The weather is going to get seriously bad. Apparently they only close the gates once or
twice each year. We get TO6411 in to the marina. Before the tide goes out. I go back to the pub and fall asleep I feel so shattered, ready to collapse. I am going to be in Queensborough now for a few days. I wander what to do. I decide tomorrow I will get the ferry to france and the train up to Dordrecht and pick up my car.
Get the train down to Dover and the ferry to France and a train up to Dordrecht. All very uneventful. Stay the night in Dordrecht.
Wake up and go pick up the car and my trailer. Back in the water-board harbour car park. Drive back to France get the ferry over to England. Drive back to Sheerness. Get back the pub is in full Saturday night swing. Apparently the weather was truly horrendous on friday. I crash out.
Get up and take it easy. Read the Sunday papers about time for a broadsheet. The Independent and The Times and a big Sunday roast. Perfect.
Beverly is an amazing hostess. Super kind and great cook. Really loving this place. Arthur an elderly man helps her out in the pub they are funny always taking little cracks at each other.
|TO6411 on the mud, Oueenborough.|
I go and see how TO6411 is. Get to the harbour she is in a bad way . The canopy and frame has completely collapsed. It rained so hard that the roof of the canopy must of given way under the weight of the water. She was lying on the mud and was completely over on one side. Tide was out. Only the ropes had stopped her rolling right over. I felt bad she looked a mess. Tried to sort the canopy out and untangle the frame. The bilges had completely filled with water on her port side. They weren't functioning again. Got them working and pumped her out. Went to find some help. It was getting late. One of the regulars in the pub Lee offered to look at her in the morning.
The weather is going to be okay tomorrow but the tide is not good for me. Only four hours of tide on my side. The tide is not good until next week. I want to get TO6411 up to London town.
John from the 'Sea Biscuit' crew arrives to see how I am doing. We have lunch with Beverly and Arthur and go down to the boat. Lee turns up and says he is going to get the canopy frame fixed and welded up for me to go up to London tomorrow. John helps out with bits and pieces on the boat. Lee has magically fixed the canopy frame. So we all go and see his amazing boat that he has built. A replica wooden 'pirates of the Caribbean boat'. Its very cool. We have a few jars. I turn in for the night back at the pub. Big day tomorrow.
|Fixing her canopy.|
Wake up 6.30am. Wind is at 6 knots. less as the day goes on. Terrible again tomorrow. Very foggy. So wait a little. I am feeling really tired. I have come to the end of the road navigating nearly everyday. Last bit I am ready to stop. Really ready. The other day was absolutely freezing. I muster up the energy. 'Come on Lucy, last lap' I say to myself. Leave around 7.30am the tide turns against me at 11.00 and starts going out. So few hours with in coming tide up the Thames.
The estuary is massive. The waves are quite big and the first couple of hours are hard work. Slowly the waves begin to calm down as I pass Tilbury. By Gravesend the tide has begun to turn. Its slow going around 4 knots. Expect to get up to London around 4.00pm. I+++ stay right over on my starboard. A few rubbish barges and ferries. Not nearly as much as Belgium and The Netherlands
It is really interesting coming up to London like this. I had never seen it from the water. Lots of small industry and warehousing. Wasteland. Small yacht clubs like Erith. I feel excited but not in the same way as when I reached Ramsgate.
I pass the Woolwich ferries, The Millennium Dome and Canary wharf. The river is much narrower now. The Clippers are now in view. Their wash is quite big, I notice they really move along.
I get to Tower bridge around five. It is to early to get into South Dock so I head up to Westminster. It feels great being in the center on TO6411. Such a strange contrast to Lampedusa 4 months ago. Its surreal. I go past HMS Belfast some men all wave. Past The clipper ferries people are taking photos. Also from the bridges. I get up to Big Ben and laugh out loud taking loads of images of To6411 with Big Ben in the background.
|TO6411 and Big Ben.|
Turn around under Vauxhall bridge and head back down to Tower Bridge. It is getting dark so I tie up and call South Dock. They say I can get into the marina at 9.30pm. The tide is to low until then. I tie up at a really sweet pontoon. Next to Tower Bridge. The harbormaster is kind enough to let me stay for a few hours.
Around 9.00 I start to head for South Dock. They are kind enough to open the lock after hours for TO6411. South Dock has offered to host TO6411 whilst she is on display in London.
I tie up for the last time. The journey is complete. TO6411 has made it all the way to London from Africa to Lampedusa and now Lampedusa to London. With that old 1958 engine chugging away.
For more info visit www.lucywood.net.
The Chronicles of Lampedusa' is being updated. Sorry for delays. Much more will be added.
I apologise for grammatical errors. I am very dyslexic so this is quite difficult at times.