Winter Adventures 2018
January started off with a long lie in after the celebrations on board ‘Pipe dream’.
We had a sad few days early in January with the death of Maya, one of the nicer stray dogs in the marina. She was first spotted on a small rocky piece of beach half in, half out of the water. Ruggiero and I got her up onto dry land with Stefania and Claire fetching old towels and blankets to dry her. She was very sluggish, but we couldn’t find any injuries on her, so we left her wrapped in a blanket to keep warm.
She was gone the following morning so that was good but we received a message from Jill saying that she was lying near the marina café not moving much so we went to check on her.
She wasn’t well so with the help of the marina staff we managed to get her to a vet who said that she had eaten poison of some kind. The vet bought her back to the marina with some medicines and set a drip up for her in a small shed near the pontoons.
We stayed up with her through the night making sure that the tube into her leg didn’t kink but unfortunately she died the following morning.
The resident sailors were very generous with their donations towards the vet bill and medicines, but little did we know that there was more heart ache to come.
Stray dogs in Sicily is a big problem with little or no money available to look after them.
We didn’t have a lot planned so our very relaxed life in the marina carried on with exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mexican train on Wednesday afternoons, music on Thursday afternoons and of course Happy hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays not forgetting the brilliant Sunday BBQ’s.
We had been in touch with our friends Johan and Millie in Holland as well as Neil and Erica in Venice as we intend to spend a week or so each with them before we joined Claire’s parents for a week’s skiing in France.
After a bit of discussion with them we agreed to fly to Venice from Sicily on the 18th January then onto Amsterdam on the 21st finally flying to Chambery to ski with Wendy and Alan on the 27th. We were pleased to have booked all these flights, including additional luggage for €270.00!!
Unfortunately all of these plans changed overnight as on the 9th we heard from Denise, Claire’s sister that Alan had been taken to hospital after feeling unwell in Courchevel.
Denise told us that Alan had gone to the doctors with Wendy who was also feeling unwell. After Wendy had been seen by the doctor who had booked her in for a blood test Alan had mentioned that he too was feeling unwell, he was very short of breath with very little energy.
The doctor checked Alan’s blood pressure and gave him an ECG the results of which concerned him enough to order an ambulance to take him directly from his surgery to the nearest hospital in Chambery. Alan only stayed at that hospital for a few hours before being moved again to a larger hospital in Annecy near Geneva.
There he was put on a very short list to be fitted with a Pacemaker.
Claire wanted to leave for France immediately but after discussions with Denise and Wendy it became clear that the best thing for us to do would be to take over helping her parents after Denise had returned to England.
So we informed our friends, cancelled our flights, booking a new pair of tickets to Geneva via Rome leaving on 16th January.
Alan's operation went very well. Apparently fitting a Pacemaker is considered routine now, done under a local anaesthetic!!
He was soon out of hospital and back in the apartment at Courchevel.
So on the 16th January we said goodbye to our friends in the marina before catching the bus to Catania airport over 2 hours away.
The flights went very well and with perfect timing we met up with Denise in Geneva airport who talked us through all that had happened so far. She also emailed Claire all the doctors notes, appointments and comments as well.
Denise had had a very tough few days looking after Wendy who was still feeling unwell as well as visiting Alan many times in hospital which was over 2 hours away by car!! I think she was pleased to be handing over the car keys and the responsibility to us, she was looking forward to a well-earned rest back at work! So, after saying goodbye we drove the family car back to Courchevel.
Denise had done all of the hard work. Claire and I just had to help out as Alan couldn’t lift anything, drive, fly or of course ski. Wendy was beginning to feel better but still had to be careful.
The first week we were there consisted of taking both Alan and Wendy to various doctor’s appointments to have dressings changed, results from blood tests collected and check-ups of one kind or another. The French doctors were very good.
After the first week we had to move apartments. This consisted of packing everything up, loading it into the car and driving 30 minutes to Mottaret where Alan and Wendy’s other apartment was located.
This was the main reason Claire and I were here because Alan was unable to lift anything and Wendy, who was feeling a little better every day was supposed to avoid lifting so with their guidance Claire and I did most of it although Wendy isn’t very good at just watching!!
Once we were unpacked in the new apartment we could relax and think about skiing.
The snow was fantastic.
The following day we went to get our ski equipment and passes. Alan and Wendy were very generous and soon we were out on the slopes with Caroline, a family friend who was also staying in the same apartments with her husband David.
We had two weeks of very nice skiing. Wendy felt well enough to come out with us most days which was great for us all.
Alan, who had been signed off by the French doctors was still forbidden to ski. But that didn’t stop him and David meeting us for lunch up on the slopes in restaurants that could be reached by bus and cable car.
We also managed to meet up with friends Lisa and Ross from Licata marina who were in the ‘Three Valleys’ at the same time. Enjoying a night out with them and a sleepover in La Praz before skiing back in the morning.
We left for England on the 3rd February stopping overnight in Dijon. On the 4th after getting off the Euro tunnel train we stopped for fish and chips in Essex, eating them in the car from the paper bag before driving the last few miles home. Perfect!!
Back in England
As we were staying with Wendy and Alan for the first week we tried to meet up with as many friends as we could whilst we were in Essex.
We popped round to see Geoff and Jan Tindale who conveniently live quite close to Alan and Wendy.
Denise popped over and it was good to catch up with her again.
Next on our list was Dave & Sue Simonson. We arranged to bring fish and chips to their house on Thursday it was great to see them again along with their boys, Josh and Toby as well as the new addition to the family, lovely baby Matilda.
My daughter Joy came over too, she looked really well. I was very happy to see her.
While we were there, purely by chance Iain Skerritt and Paul Bruce popped in. It was great to catch up with everyone even if it was only for a few hours.
Next was a sleepover with Bridget and Conor and their two huge cats in Chelmsford. It's always great to catch up with these two. We got a Thai curry take away which was delicious.
On the way back from Chelmsford we stopped in to see Dave Pearce, Victoria and baby Amelia. It was nice to meet the new addition to this very happy home.
On Sunday 11th February we all drove to Maldon where we met Joy and Ed who were going to give us a lift to my parents’ house in Forest Hill, South East London.
We said our goodbyes to Alan and Wendy thanking them once more for their generosity before squashing the bags into Joys car and joining the endless stream of traffic headed towards London.
We managed to get to my Mum and Dad’s just as they were putting the Sunday roast on the table. Perfect.
We had a nice Sunday at my parents and I was sad when it was time to say goodbye to Joy and Ed who needed to get back home.
We spent a few days with my parents fitting in a visit to the pub for lunch and a few pints of Doombar as well as Fish and Chips in Honour Oak on Valentines day meeting Lauri and David at the chip shop. Who said romance is dead!!
We also visited Guya’s dad in Kings College Hospital. He’d had a bit of a fall but was ok and recovering well. We met Nadini there and she was sorting things out for him.
We had been back in contact with our friends Johan and Millie in Amsterdam and Neil and Erica in Padova. Trying to organise visiting them on our way back to Sicily.
After a chat we booked the flights which meant we were leaving England on Friday 16th for Amsterdam.
Claire packed the bags ready for us to leave on Friday morning.
This left us Thursday to catch up with our friends in London. Claire and I travelled to Leicester Sq where she met up with Helen.
I had arranged to have lunch with my friend and old boss Richard Warwick. He invited a few more really good friends along too. But before this I met Ed in a pub where we had a few pints of very nice Guinness and a good chat.
Claire and Helen disappeared into the crowds to talk endlessly before going to see a show. While I made my way to Covent garden to meet Richard and Colin in a favourite bar of ours called Philomena’s.
It really was good to see these two again and soon Andy, David and special guest Julian turned up for what was a very enjoyable afternoon.
No trip back to England would be complete for me without meeting up with my old ‘slaphead’ friends.
So after lunch and a few more pints of Doombar I made my way across town to Mile End in the East End of London to a pub called The Morgan Arms.
It always amazes me how easy it is to fall back in with all of these very good friends. I was feeling the worse for wear by the time I got on the tube to meet Claire back in Leicester Sq. It was close to midnight and we started the trip home to my parent’s house.
We had to leave for the airport at 08.00 the following morning!!
We said goodbye to my Mum and Dad. We had had a very enjoyable stay with them.
The cab was on time for the trip around to Sydenham Hill where we caught the train to Gatwick.
Our flight was on time and very soon we were flying over Essex looking down on the river Blackwater where our adventure began as we made our way across the North Sea to Amsterdam.
It was nice to walk through the door into the arrivals hall at Schiphol airport to see Millie waiting for us. It was really lovely to see her again.
We got our bags into her car and drove for about 40 minutes to Alkmaar where their boat Aurora was moored. Aurora was going to be our home for the next 7 days as their lovely house in Heerhugowaard was too small for the 4 of us. Actually it wasn’t that it was small it was due to the fact that they had changed the second bedroom into a nice office / study.
They had moved their boat from Den Helder to Alkmaar a few days before and it was perfect for Claire and me.
Since we had spoken last Johan had got a new job so we waited for him to get home before sitting down to a very nice dinner.
It was great to see Johan who is a very kind, giant of a man standing at over 6ft 8ins. After talking to them for a short while it became clear to us just how much thought and consideration they had put into our visit.
They moved their boat, mooring it in a beautiful canal near to the shops. Stocking the boat up with milk, bread, tea, coffee, biscuits etc. Borrowing their daughter’s car for the week as Johan needed theirs to go to work in.
They had thought about our whole week with them, planning trips out that would show us just how lovely Holland is.
We were exhausted so after dinner they dropped us back to the boat. Johan and Millie showed us where everything was, they immediately turned on the heating as it was freezing.
They left us after a few minutes promising to pick us up at 09.30 for a trip into Amsterdam.
Claire unpacked all our clothes while the boat warmed up a bit but soon we were in bed falling almost immediately to sleep.
A very strange noise woke me around 2 in the morning. I have never heard a noise like it on a boat and you have to remember we’ve been living on a boat for a few years now.
I got up, it was really very cold inside the boat. I rubbed a thin layer of ice from the inside of the window before looking out at the canal which had almost frozen all the way across!! I finally realised that the noise I was hearing was ice rubbing along the side of the boat!
I jumped back into bed trying unsuccessfully to wrestle a bit more of the quilt off of Claire.
At 09.30 Johan and Millie picked us up and we had a very nice day in Amsterdam.
We started with a nice cup of tea overlooking the canals in the city centre before jumping on a tram that took us to the Rijks Museum where we saw some very beautiful paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh.
It's a very nice museum and I think we were all surprised by how much we enjoyed wandering through the many rooms. We decided to have lunch there before heading back into town for a nice walk back to the station and home to their house for another very nice meal.
The following day we were taken to the Zaan district. This used to be a huge industrial area where most of the machinery was powered by the wind. There used to be hundreds of windmills here of all shapes and sizes. As steam and electric slowly took over from the windmills a group was formed in 1925 to save a few of these beautiful, graceful machines.
The windmills have been preserved for the public to look around. The best part about this place was that most, if not all of the windmills were working. Still sawing huge trees into planks and grinding grain into flour.
We learnt that the pine trees are left floating in the water for 2 -3 years to wash out the pine resin!
We went back to Johan and Millie’s for a bit of lunch before driving out to Enkhuizen which is a beautiful town on the edge of the Ijsselmeer.
Claire and I had sailed here in Red Rooster in 2014 as part of our preparations for our bigger trip. Well it was more to see if we would enjoy living on a yacht together for an extended period of time.
It really is a beautiful town but we needed to get indoors as when the sun went down the temperature went down with it.
We found a very nice, old hotel to have a beer and some ‘bitterballen’ which are like breaded meatballs. Very nice.
I absolutely love the Netherlands. I could definitely live here.
Monday saw Johan returning to work so just the three of us went out. We enjoyed a walk around Alkmaar first visiting the famous cheese museum. Alkmaar is a beautiful old town.
We then drove out to Schoorlse Duinen which is a huge national park formed on the largest area of sand dunes in the North of Holland. Millie volunteers here during the summer months helping to preserve this beautiful place.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as we parked the car for the walk to the park. I was thinking, Sahara, Gobi but no there were large trees, grass, shrubs, lakes and wildlife.
Millie took us on a very nice circular walk around one of the larger lakes. All the paths were marked the place was very tranquil.
It was our turn to treat Johan and Millie, so on the way back to the boat we booked a table in a nice restaurant in Alkmaar.
We waited for Johan to arrive before having a few drinks onboard Aurora. We then walked to the restaurant enjoying an excellent meal in the company of these two very nice people. Johan and Millie drove back home, while we walked back to our floating ice box!!
We were getting the hang of the heating / hot water systems with the boat heating up nicely.
On the 21st February Millie took us out to The Hondsbossche and Pettemer sea wall or dyke. This dyke was first raised around 1350 being made entirely of sand. In 1873 after being repaired many times the dyke was faced with huge basalt blocks.
The latest works to protect these low-lying areas is to move huge amounts of sand in front of the weakening dyke. The works are over 8 Km’s long and 250 meters wide. They have pushed the sea back using this method.
The amount of work involved is very impressive.
Nearly half of the Netherlands lies below sea level. Amsterdam is nearly 4 meters lower!!!
Each Dutch household pays an amount towards the upkeep of these dykes. If your property is bordered by a canal it's your responsibility to keep your part of that canal free from debris to ensure that it flows freely.
We were leaving on Friday so we wanted an easy day which would allow us to get back to the boat early to pack and clean.
Millie came up with the idea of going to a butterfly house. The drive there was beautiful and the butterflies didn’t disappoint.
Millie dropped us back to the boat promising to return in a few hours.
Claire packed while I cleaned the galley and saloon.
Soon Millie was back to take us to her house where we had another very nice meal. Our last of this visit.
We were getting a cab and train to the airport in the morning so we said our goodbyes when they dropped us back to the boat for our last night in Alkmaar. What a brilliant trip. Thank you.
The cheapest flights for us from Amsterdam to Venice had a stopover in Gatwick for a couple of hours!! We didn’t mind as we are time rich.
We were met at Marco Polo airport by our friend Neil. We had timed our flight, it landed just after 4pm so that Neil could pick us up on his way back home from his new job.
Unfortunately Neil and Erica have had to give up their cruising life due to financial reasons. They’ve had a good run though. Leaving Italy onboard their boat 8 years ago when Neil was 38, sailing around the world.
We were going to stay at Neil’s parents’ house as his parents were away. Molly the dog and Meaw the cat needed looking after.
We hadn’t planned to do too much during this visit.
On Saturday we had a lovely drive up into the mountains with Molly. Like the rest of Europe, the Italian side of the Alps had had fantastic snow and soon we were up above the snow line stopping to give Molly a romp in the snow before driving higher stopping at a beautiful restaurant for lunch.
Neil told us about his new job as manager of a large charter fleet. The boats under his control aren’t sailing yachts but motor boats that travel through and around the many canals and lagoons surrounding Venice. They have two or three cabins and are rented by families for a week or two.
On Sunday we had a slow start before taking Molly for a walk in the hills that surround the house. On the way back we stopped for an hour or two in the local bar before going back to watch the 6 nations rugby.
Neil had to go to work on Monday so Erica drove us to Valsanzibio a very nice Venetian villa built in the 1600’s where we enjoyed a walk through the beautiful gardens designed by Berbarigo in the 17th century. The garden with its maze and many statues remain unchanged to this day.
We had another nice evening but we had to pack ready for our flight back home to Red Rooster.
Neil went off to work on Tuesday morning. I took Molly for a walk in the hills behind the house before Erika drove us to Neil’s place of work which was on the river Sile near Casale.
It was great for us to be able to see where Neil works. We went on a couple of the boats in his fleet. They were being made ready for the 2018 season which starts at the end of March.
We then went to their new house which was only a 5 minute drive away.
Their house was very nice, we enjoyed lunch there before saying goodbye to Neil as Erica dropped us off at Treviso airport for our short flight to Sicily.
Back to Sicily
Tuesday 27th February.
We had booked a hire car for a month from Catania airport to allow us to see a bit more of this wonderful island before we left towards the end of April. It sounds a bit extravagant but it was only 147 Euro’s for 4 weeks.
The woman at the desk tried very hard to scare us into buying additional insurance although we kept telling her that we had independent insurance cover for all hire cars.
We drove back to Licata.
It was lovely to get back home. Sleeping in our own bed again was wonderful. We worked out that we had slept in 10 different beds since we left RR 6 weeks ago!!
RR was fine and we quickly slipped back into our live aboard life.
It was great to see our sailing friends back in Licata.
We used the car on the 6th March to visit Villa del Casale which is a UNESCO site a couple of hours away from the marina.
The Villa is Roman and considered to be one of the best preserved in the whole of the Mediterranean. There is over 3,500 square meters of high quality mosaics beautifully preserved here.
We had a lovely time there as well as a nice drive to and from the villa. The Sicilian countryside is just beautiful at this time of year.
We used the car to drive to Lidl with Sarah but when we were leaving the marina the automated barrier malfunctioned and came down hard on the roof of the car denting it!!!! Oh no.
On Sunday March 4th we had a clean up Licata marina morning. The turn out of the cruisers was matched by the locals from Licata.
In 3 hours we managed to fill 275 large bags with plastic waste.
We also used the car to drive up into the National Park which is behind Cefalu a couple of hours away. David and Sarah came with us but the weather was appalling. The higher we climbed the worse it got until we were driving through a snow blizzard.
We only got out of the car once to run into a coffee shop. Even so the scenery was spectacular.
We met up with Lauri and David on the 19th in Modica. They had travelled to Sicily for a holiday as well as playing some golf.
We had a very nice day with them. Riding on the little train around the town before stopping for some lunch.
We met them again on the way back from visiting the Greek Temples in Selinute with George and Barbara.
The Greek temples were very similar to those we had seen near Agrigento with my parents but you could climb into these and walk around like we did with Grace when we visited Paestum.
We stopped into visit Lauri and David on the way back as they had moved locations and were now in a very posh golfing resort near Sciaccia.
It wasn’t only posh but very, very expensive with the cheapest bottle of wine costing 37 Euro’s!! so David asked if we could smuggle in a few bottles as well as a few cans of beer which we duly did.
We spent a very nice hour or so with them before driving back to the marina.
On the 26th I dropped George and Barbara off at Comiso airport for their trip back home to the Orkney Islands.
On the 27th we took the car back to Catania airport.
As you can imagine we were worried about the dent in the roof. I had tried hard to get the dent out and I do think I succeeded a bit but you could still notice it.
The drop off for the car was on the bottom floor of a multi storey car park so it was quite gloomy. But when I saw the woman who was sent to check over the car for damage I heaved a sigh of relief.
Can you guess why I was relieved??? She was only 5ft tall and couldn’t even see the roof of the car!!
We caught the bus back to the marina it was over two hours costing us just 9 Euro’s each.
On the 29th March Red Rooster came out of the water. The first time for two years. She looked pretty good, I was worried about the anodes. They did need changing but there was still a bit of them there.
Our coppercoat antifoul was still doing it's job with very little fouling on the hull but the keel was a mess.
We were out for 5 days getting all of our jobs done including the dreaded polishing of the gelcoat.
As you can imagine in a predominately roman catholic country Easter is a big thing here in Sicily. Lots of parades, marches and music.
We feel completely at home here. The locals are very nice.
I arranged for the cruisers to have an Easter Bonnet parade at the Sunday BBQ which went down well.
We have also provisionally booked our berth in Monfalcone for this winter. Ruggerio and Stefania have helped us a lot as well as there friend Marco.
We are preparing RR now with a view to leaving Licata before the end of April.
We will be very sad to leave but will keep in touch with those that have become our friends.