Saturday, 28 November 2009

Monty B goes all French TV, ooh la la

Can't remember whether this made it onto my blog at the time, and am too shoddy to bother checking.

Way back at the end of August (a lot has happened since then), we were chartered by a French TV company, Canal 5, who were filming for their prime time travel show, Echappees Belles.

The day had kicked off with air in the fuel causing numerous break-downs on our way to the rendezvous point in Herceg Novi. Completely stressful as we hadn't left any time for arsing around and were late to pick them up - though luckily, they were also late so thankfully it didn't cause any massive dramas. We managed to get ourselves onto the tiny fuel dock in Herceg Novi (not really big enough for yachts our size) and filled up to try to stave off any further air in fuel worries (we were low which was why we were pulling air through).

We headed out of the bay into what would have been a surprising amount of swell, had it not been for the immense storm clouds out on the NW Adriatic. We would not usually have headed out with what appeared to be a nasty looking bit of weather headed our way, but hey ho, we were on telly!
We were heading for a well known dive spot, Blue Caves, where on a sunny day, the light refracts from inside a sea cave turning the entire cave and water a trippy deep blue. But not on a day like this, with the wind building and the sea turning an angry green grey. The film crew were undeterred and had already set up on deck before leaving harbour so started filming our journey. They were unexpectedly friendly and laid-back, loved the dogs and we started to enjoy ourselves. It was SO COOL! The rather suave and friendly (womaniser?) organiser type started to get sea-sick within the first 15 minutes (there is always one on a day like that) so I stuck him on the helm.
On arriving at Blue Caves, a small dive RIB picked up the film crew and we then spent an hour circling, much to close to a viscious rocky shoreline, whilst the wind picked up and a storm started to brew further up the coast. Mmmm.
The dive boat eventually emerged from the caves but the director wanted to shoot footage of the presenter, Sophie, and our mate Jack from Black Mountain (adventure travel) in the water by the boat. This was becoming increasingly dangerous, particularly for Sophie, who was clearly exhausted and kept disappearing underwater as waves covered her face. The final straw as I anxiously watched the fast approaching vile-looking clouds was lightning forking down into the entrance of the bay, in the direction we were having to head. We insisted that they got back on the boat and a good job too as by this time they were struggling to get out of the water, with the waves causing the stern to slam and their heavy dive gear weighing them down.
We tore off into the waves but no sooner had we got underway, we were hailed by the dive RIB which was struggling against the conditions so we picked them up, got them on board and towed their RIB behind us. All exciting stuff.

Unfortunately, the camera gear and less hardy amongst the crew were put below decks, the organiser guy being flat out seasick in the saloon (his choice). So none of this was filmed. And it would have made great TV.
This is the TV programme which was screened last week in France. We are on the first 5 mins or so but even though the programme is in French, it is worth a skim through if just for the footage of this incredible country that we live in, particularly the Boka Kotorska which features in the first 10 mins or so. See http://www.france5.fr/echappees-belles/emission/montenegro/video.html

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we made it back into the bay, catching only the edge of the storm which had taken the familiar route into the bay and across the Orjen mountains rather than tracking the coast. So it was exhiliarating without being frightening, we were aware of the risks and took account of them without the situation feeling remotely overwhelming. Which made me realise that we have come a long way since the first few months on the boat where we encountered situations which were way beyond our experience and thus frightening. This was, of course, a minor situation compared to those incidents back in 2007 but all the same, we quite rightly have a lot more confidence now and it was useful to be put into a more demanding situation than usual.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Wow! This is hardcore.


,

Wow, what a walk! We headed off on the road which tracks the southern and western sides of Durmitor NP and parked up near to the bottom of the peak of Stozica as there was snow on the road ahead.

We walked down into the silent, vast U-shaped valley with steep, pine-covered sides giving way to breathtakingly steep cliffs which jutted out, above the clouds. The path ran beside a deep green, menacing glacial lake which shuddered and turned black with the gusts of icy wind that blasted down from the snowy mountain tops.

We walked separately, over rough, tussocky ground, enjoying the emptiness.


The hike along the valley soon turned from a gradual incline to a fair old climb, and with the altitude came increasingly thick snow underfoot. The skies had been darkening since we had begun and as we reached around 1800 metres, we could see swirling snow-clouds heading our way. The sleet gave way to full-on snow and everything around us started to disappear into the murk. Usually, in the depths of the Montenegrin wilderness, you would be getting a bit worried at this point. But it was impossible to get lost as the landscape was open, the valley ran in a straight line and we had compasses. Barring injury (like a sprained ankle!), we were fine. So we just gritted teeth and trudged onwards and upwards towards the col (Sedlo) where it joined up with the road at 1908 metres.

And we made it. And it was incredible – the views from either side of the col were incredible. Thunder rumbled distantly and we sat on our gloves, on a snow-covered bench and hastily ate our sarnies and my homemade cake.

Then being total chickens (or sensible sailors), we walked the snow-bound, winding road all the way back down. Just in case.

Fantasy life aboard a yacht


When I’m away from Monty B, I spend a lot of time day-dreaming about what I could be doing if I was on the boat. These day dreams usually involve heroic passages in unexplored waters, helming the boat with a grin on my face through heavy seas or laughing heartily with some welcoming locals as I buy sumptious fresh mangos. They don’t normally involve sitting with my head in my hands, eyes cast skyward whilst teaming rain turns the hatches ablur, or shouting “Fking god almighty” as the shower bilge pump decides not to work whilst you’re soaking wet and cold, dressed only in a damp towel, or feeling claustrophobic when someone stands too close to you in the galley. That desire to go adventuring, to be brave, seems to gnaw away at me a hell of a lot more when I am not on the boat.

But fantasy may become reality this spring, April to be exact, when we plan to depart our berth in Tivat and head south. The idea being we can spend April and some of May doing some much needed cruising, rid us of the Bogeyman that is the passage from Greece to Montenegro, pick up spares in Greece and try to get some springtime rays a little earlier in the season than they arrive in Montenegro.

And adventures abound. I need adventures. That’s what it’s all about, is it not? Even if they scare you witless.

Honeymoon tales 1 - Smoking Gun

The day before yesterday kicked off with breakfast burritos, which had come to mind whilst I was day-dreaming about a Coffee Shop in the Jordaan district of Amsterdam, which I frequented a decade ago. Large mugs of coffee and a smoke to start the day, followed by huge veggie breakfast burritos. It was heaven. Don't know why I'm daydreaming about Amsterdam....mmm well, maybe I do..... it must be the rain. What else do you do on a day like this, eh?

Anyway, what WE do on a day like this, is get our wet weather gear on and go for a short hike. Well, more of a walk really as I'm resting my (slightly) sprained ankle, got whilst attempting to copy Louis' athletic 4-legged leap over a stream (ankle twisted on crappy landing and I ended up collapsed in the mud). Four legs good, two legs bad in this case. Plus he's younger than me. And a dog. Which is probably the crucial bit of information that my over-stimulated brain failed to register when I impulsively followed him.

So we went for wet walk around Crno Jezero (Black Lake) which, though tame for a Montenegrin walk, was still beautiful with the cloud occasionally giving way to a mountain view and mists rising from the pine forests. There was a few minutes of adrenalin when I thought I'd seen a big, black/grey, dog-like animal in the woods and Mollie had legged off in its direction. The previous evening we'd had dinner and lots of booze around the house of a local man, Mina, and his family. During the journey to his house, he stopped off to buy a crate of beer and whilst putting it in the back of his aging Volvo, he asked Tim to budge up as he happened to be sitting on his rifle. Amongst other things that Mina "needed his rifle for", were killing foxes and wolves. We'd seen wolf icons on our Durmitor map but assumed they were as out of date as the cartography - but apparently not. This shored up my suspected wolf-kill find last week, where I disturbed a gang of huge ravens gorging on what had been a sheep, only identifiable by the bloody horns lying on the path and a hairy hoof. The rest of its body had been ripped to shreds, pulled apart and strewn about in what looked like a violent attack. This was quite a shocking sight and slightly unnerving as I was alone, on my way into town to get some bread, which involved walking through part of the forest. The city dweller element in me cannot help but find forests eerie, dark places full of mysterious, watching eyes darting behind trees when you look too hard. It is all part of the fun, of course.

Anyhow, back to the original tale. After a few nervous minutes of rounding up our uber-independent hounds, I had managed to talk myself out of seeing anything at all. Then, from the trees ran a large, black/grey dog-like thing which…..wait for it…..was, in fact, a dog. We did see a pretty cool eagle the other day though.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Balkan Extremes

Despite the not bad weather we were graced with in England, we were pretty surprised to get out of the taxi back in Montenegro (driver stinking of booze but had a vehicle large enough to fit us and our windshield, more of later) to find the air temperature up in the high 20’s and the sun laughing at my attire of hooded top, coat, scarf, jeans, boots. Hooray! Farewell to autumnal musings; here was summer again.

We’d only been back on the boat a few days when a contingent of bicycling Nottinghamites paid a visit. Dennis, Nez and Ian were on the final leg of their month long trip which had taken them from Bulgaria to gentle, friendly Macedonia, through hard-core Albania and finishing with the mountain marathon that is Montenegro. Had we not just been back to Nottingham for 2 weeks, it would have been utterly odd to have them on our boat but as things were, it felt completely normal to be with such like-minded souls. They were a lovely bunch of lads and welcome to return anytime.

However, their arrival coincided with a distinct change in the weather and we waved them off into heavy rain, falling temperatures and building winds the following afternoon. And then the weather went shit.

From mid to upper 20’s, the temperatures descended into the boat madness zone of, at best 10 degrees, at worst 2 degrees C! And it rained. And rained. After the first week, I held my head in my hands one grim morning pondering why I had reneged on my unequivocal statement last spring that I “would never do another Montenegrin winter”. Free marina berth and free offers of luxurious on-shore accommodation had swung it, I guess. But it’s all very well making those decisions on a sultry June afternoon. The crying wind, rolling black clouds and rain which only relents long enough for you to tie up your boot laces and open the companionway, no longer feature in your carefree Montenegrin dream.

So, what do you do when the going gets tough? You agree to go white-water rafting in the mountain wilderness of northern Montenegro. So a mixed bag of ages, nationalities and backgrounds from a variety of craft moored in Porto Montenegro, piled into a van, taking along two dogs for entertainment (and much needed warmth).

And to cut a long story short, it was a crazy thing to do. This began to hit home a little more as within two hours of leaving, what little we could see of the mountains (shrouded in thick mist and freezing rain) were white with snow. Not usual at this time of year, it has to be said. We descended into the high-sided canyon cut by the Piva River which looked oddly wide and full (Pluzine Rijeka) and didn’t see another vehicle for an hour despite the road being good. The reason for strange lake/river was revealed further along the road when we crossed a 220 metre damn, stopping to look at the breathtaking drop that was the canyon proper with its natural, mineral-green river, racing along far beneath us. At the confluence of the Piva and the Tara rivers, we arrived the Montenegro/Bosnia border crossing. It was 4 degrees C. The border guard smirked, “You go rafting??” then boomed with laughter. We now understand why.

The camp was situated on the banks of the glacial-looking Tara River, flanked by near vertical canyon sides, reaching at its deepest, 1200 metres. The wooden cabins had been built for summer climes and we slept fully dressed despite the heater, but they were quite cute and sent me into a romantic spin about my much-dreamed about/desired “wooden A-frame house in the mountains” fantasy. We had an evening of drinking around a big covered firepit which was top fun, despite the strange (but usual) interactions or lack of interaction with the local guides. In typical Montenegrin fashion, they chain-smoked, looked miserable and spent lots of time texting on their mobile phones.

The next day dawned even fouler than the last. It was 1 degree outside and trying to snow. Surely they wouldn’t take us out in this, we all secretly prayed. But they did. We donned the usual wet-suit, sodden and already freezing cold wet-boots, there were no gloves – and we piled in the back of the Land Rover. Already, shaking with cold and with one stop for a member of our crew to be sick (hangover – and it wasn’t me! Or Tim), we travelled yet further into and down into the Tara canyon. It is a far more remote and desolate place than the postcards suggest, particularly with snow edging the track.

Holding the icy metal paddle was a job in itself but once we got going, I thought we would warm up. But the needles of iced rain blew into our faces relentlessly, turning to snow blizzards less than 200 metres above our heads. We paddled, we shivered, we shook – the question “are we nearly there yet?” took on a resonance like never before. What should have been one of the most spectacular trips of our lives (and it would be if the weather was clement), became one of the most arduous. We couldn’t wait for it to be over.

To add insult to injury, the konoba (bar) at the end of our endeavour was closed and our bags had not been dropped off. So we waited, outside, for more than 15 minutes, now getting seriously chilled, before we could change (in full view of everyone, outside) into our dry clothes. No towels, no fire, no hot drinks. It was all very poor, to be honest. And potentially dangerous.

When we take people out sailing, we go to great lengths to make sure that everyone is having a great time. If the weather isn’t good (and we are talking a bit of rain here), we don’t go out, simple as that. We lose money. But we would rather do that than have our clients not enjoy themselves – let alone put them through actually physical pain. This trip should not have gone ahead in those conditions – the camp were on one hand, greedy, taking money when they knew there was no way that anyone could enjoy rafting in near-freezing temperatures – and it was potentially dangerous should anything untoward had happened and we’d had to stay outside for any longer than we did.

This is a real shame as the camp itself is potentially fantastic and we would like to be able to recommend it to people and go again ourselves – but are loathe to do so now under the circumstances. As such, I am not putting a link on here as I don’t want them to have bad publicity – or good at the moment.

Mam Tor Wedding continued

We have a long winter ahead so I’ll stop beating myself up about a) putting up photos, b) editing the video and c) completing the tale. All of this will be done in time. For now, I’m going to continue my usual bletherings.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Our Mam Tor Wedding

Grrr, I knew I’d do this. Leave it sufficiently long before writing that I am already losing the warming buzz and remnant glow that accompanies those times when you feel completely enveloped in the loving arms of those whom you care for and those that care for you. Or to put more simply, not write about our dreamy wedding a little sooner.

Now, I’m not one of those lasses that has spent her life daydreaming about that special day, waiting for that perfect moment. Quite on the contrary; I’ve never been interested in marriage. It all seemed like, to put it politely, a load of contrived bollocks. But something in me made me want to marry Tim, a romantic whim if you will, an expression of love. So, on 26 September 2009 we stood a’top Mam Tor and said “I do” and it, unexpectedly, became a momentous occasion for both of us which did actually really mean something. I think most people who were there would be in agreement with that.

In a nutshell, because the detail is becoming less and less relevant as the weeks pass, these are the bits which stick in my mind:

Monday 21 Sept, 5 days to go – After arriving back in the UK the evening before (discussing marquee d├ęcor over a pint of real ale in one of our favourite pubs then a massive curry), met with those of our mates who were going to help us make this whole thing work. They made us feel much better and I started to think this thing was really going to work. Oh, and we bought our rings.

Tuesday 22 Sept, 4 days to go – Met with my mother to choose some material to make my wedding skirt, measured up for skirt, came to agreement (surprisingly) easily about what could and couldn’t be conjured up in the timescale and mum skills. Tried on corset – looked amazing but I couldn’t breath and went into a huge panic about how I was going to make it up Mam Tor/get over stiles/dance/eat/drink/sit without my face disappearing into my cleavage. Decided it was a terrible mistake. (postscript: on the day I didn’t lace it up properly so could do all of the above).

Wednesday 23 Sept, 3 days to go – Wrote the ceremony script with Tim. Spent a lot of time on the internet hiring vans which we realised we needed. Met a worried Tim in town and picked out tie colour and reassured him on choice of shirt (he just couldn’t get his head around how his neck size was all they needed).

Thursday 24 Sept, 2 days to go – Tim went on his stag do at 9am (under strict instruction to meet me, in a fit state, at 1pm Friday in Edale). They finished around 5am. I am saying no more other than tank driving (in a pink tutu), an ostrich costume, Carry on up the Khyber at the Screen Room, lots of drinking, the conga, human pyramids, pile-ons, lots of drinking, male nudity, chest injuries, lots of bruises (and this is only what I’ve gleaned from the evidence). I, on the other hand, was in a state of dull worry about the logistics of the following 24 hours – which was a real shame as some of my pals had put on a low-key non-hen eve and I just wasn’t myself (though “myself” would have ended up piling into town and getting into a similar state as the groom so probably a good thing all round). My, I am getting sensible in me owd age.

Friday 25 Sept, 1 day to go – Arrived at Whitmore Lea Farm, our site for the weekend, with some pals to find the marquee company (Premier Event Marquees, from Goole) telling us that they wouldn’t erect the marquee on that site because the grass was too long, there were sheep in the field, it was too uneven. Gob-smacked, utterly shocked but keeping my head, we found them two alternative sites (without sheep, long grass and flat enough to have static caravans on one of them). They still wouldn’t do it – they had just cleaned their marquees for the winter they told us and “shouldn’t even be doing this job”. They also told me that their boss thought I was “dodgy” and said that even if they chose to put up the marquees, they would need £500 off me there and then in cash as a security deposit. Charming. And nigh impossible.

Not having mobile phone reception in the entire valley was not helping matters, and after running back and forth from the farmhouse to make phone calls home to Tim, after 2 hours of trying to work with the marquee guys, they finally left saying how terrible they felt about the situation (they later told their boss that I was “threatening and abusive”). Lovely.

So, it was now 24 hours before our wedding party and we had nothing. No marquee, no furniture. Then an amazing 6 hours unfolded, sparked off by an incredible and highly capable friend who took the parish mag by the horns and rang around all the movers and the shakers in Edale village (herself from a village knew that something could be done; myself, from suburban Birmingham, just stood there dumbstruck). Within the hour, the farmer, his wife and their two mates plus us were running about all over the place and by 4pm had: 7 mini marquees from the vicar, enough trestle tables from the village hall, 100 chairs from the horticultural society. And the lads finally turned up, plus a van load of light and sound gear plus more tarps than you could shake a sheep-shitty stick at.

By nightfall, the stunning but previously empty field was filled with a fairly large, fairly stable structure made up of numerous marquees gaffer-taped together.

I found my mum, drank whisky and we finished my skirt. Then had “dinner with the mums” and a lacklustre bridegroom trying his hardest not to look stupidly hungover.

Oh, and Tim's kilt arrived.

Saturday 26 Sept, the day – Awoke to the kind of day that, had I ever had romantic dreams about getting wed, I would have chosen. Autumn colours on the trees, falling and swirling on the breeze, carpets of crisp yellows and russets on the paths, a deep blue almost cloudless sky and warmth in the sun. The gamble to get married on top of one of the coldest, windiest, cloudiest, wettest places in England looked like it might just pay off.

Arrived on site to find a mini-town had grown overnight in our field: kids playing on a big trampoline and being transported around in a tractor’s scooper by the farmer, tables set up and already being laid out for dinner, the beginnings of a spectacular veggie buffet were arriving, lots of sound and lighting gear, an extravagant toilet set-up being dug and built at the far end of the field and lots of tents. We did what we could then rushed back to Edale to get changed.

There was Tim, trying on half his kit for the first time and getting in a mess. Me, the only bride in history not to have time to wash her hair, who having forced down beans on toast (not really the best food for a woman about to wear a corset but mother made it for me and I was almost passing out through lack of food and too much emotion), got stuck into the champagne with my two “ladies” and mum and suddenly cheered up – and started enjoying myself for the first time in a lot of hours.

Then we both managed to get up the hill in an unplanned fashion – plan was that Tim was meant to be one of the first up and I would follow so I didn’t have the grand entrance thing going on. However, surprise surprise, we were late so Tim missed his walking party and got a lift half way up – and I was even later – so ended up being the last one up there unintentionally – but it kind of worked in the end.

Then it all becomes a big blur (that’ll be the champagne I guess).

However, I will try to reconstruct the rest in my next post.

The photos say the rest – as does this enormous list of thank yous:

Michelle and David: for lending us their lodge in the mountains of Monte for our honeymoon

Jes: Photography and camera

Everyone who provided food for the magnificent buffet

Katie's mum: seamstress, flowers, food, speech and being calm at the right moments

Tim's mum: organising food, dancing

Katie's step dad: ironing groom's shirt, getting groom up the hill, providing shower gel and shaving equipment 1 hour before the wedding

Gus and Sara: Katie's ladies, giving her the bottle to get up the hill, wedding cake (gus)

Michelle and David: for lending us their lodge in the mountains of Monte for our honeymoon

Jes: Photography and camera

Malachi and Harris: filming of ceremony and party

Chan: electrics, sound, light, materials, resourcefulness

Andy and Rhiannan: bar, enthusiasm, marquees

Chan, Andy, Andy, Gareth: Planning meeting earlier in week. As the crisis unfolded, their professionalism, resourcefulness, materials, enthusiasm and experience inspired confidence in the eventual result. Once we had ditched the marquee company and started doing things for ourselves, there was never any doubt of the result.

Gareth and Elaine: transporting furniture to and from villagers

Vanessa: tea tent, decor, rallying of troops on Sat morning, provider of great lights.

Boy's team: Nat, Andy, Mal, other Andy and Tom for putting up the village marquees without fuss.

Andy Nurse: speech, stag do, constant support and ever-present assistance to groom

Jo and Cath: table decor, crisis management post-marquee disaster, resourcefulness at critical point - in two hours the wedding rose out of the ashes thanks to them

Farmers and villagers: advice, hospitality, resources - we won't forget your generosity

Cath and Andy: keeping the fizz on ice until the toasts

Elaine P: brilliant children's entertainment, book her in London for your parties: http://www.ministryofgiggles.co.uk/

Egg and Moll: toilets that even the locals were impressed by

Kim: wood collection and transportation

Ben Caulfield: advice, site rec and toilets

DJs: George, Gareth, Andy, Ol, Chan, Chris M

Ziggy: "that speech"

Clean up team: Chris and Jo, Elaine, Eleanor, Gareth, Andy, Rhiannan, Kim, Ol, Chan, Nurses.

Mum & Richard, Mum & Steve, Dad & Sally: cash!

Wedding ceremony team, Gareth, Ol, Gus, Andy Nurse: fantastic improvisation on the day, brilliant performances with little notice and no rehearsal.

Premier Event Marquees in Goole: for their ignorant and unprofessional behaviour which led to the "Dunkirk spirit" which pulled all these brilliant and resourceful people together to create something far better in the end - it would not have been the same with you.

And everyone else who, as soon as they arrived on site, realised there was a job to do and offered their help immediately. No amount of money spent could have created that atmosphere, which is entirely fitting for us.

And finally, a special thank you to Gareth who was our "Man on the ground" from the very beginning and without whom, this whole event would not have been possible.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Summer's end and Blighty beckons

What appear to be London Plane trees stand by the water’s edge here in the marina, their maple-shaped leaves curl at the edges and their colour is changing. The few horse-chestnut trees found in this part of Montenegro are dropping their spiky green cases to the ground below, emptying themselves of shining, silky smooth conkers that taste faintly of blood when you touch them with your tongue. The sun has lost its intensity, the late afternoon holds a hazy, soft light. And for the first time in so many months, I am held in a closed up boat, dressed in fleecy trousers and dodging those drips again.

Our remarkable summer is rapidly drawing to a close and despite life being frighteningly brilliant at the moment, I cannot help but feel a certain sadness. Another summer gone, another summer I haven’t got to look forward to, one less summer in my life. Doesn’t autumn bring home your mortality?

I’ve been told I’m a brat. Which is, of course, true.

Anyhow, less of this morbidity and more of what we’ve been up to this summer. Well, it couldn’t have gone any better really (unless someone took pity on us and decided to donate a million quid to the Monty B leak-prevention fund). Our hopes and dreams were realised in early September when we hit our 52nd booking of the season which met our “one booking a week, every week of the year break-even/enough to survive and more” imaginary goal. So we have enough money to get through the winter, though not enough to plough back into the boat in anything other than an essential maintenance manner. But we are lucky to have done as well as we have and if we manage to find some other income over the winter, even better.

From mid May until the beginning of September, life was a blur of frenetic daily boat cleaning and associated arguments, big smiles and lots of enthusiasm, escape from the heat out on the water, sailing, lots and lots of sailing, gaining the vicarious pleasure of taking in the scenery, seen hundreds of times, through fresh eyes, lots of jumping off the boat and splashing around (though lots more watching other people doing it and making sure they didn’t drown), more tomatoes chopped than I care to think about and the sumptuous pleasure of watching the light and G&Ts soften everyone’s faces as the sun dipped behind the soaring peaks. Then usually we would crash out within an hour of dropping anchor. Lots of high energy and clean fun.

We both seem to be at our happiest when sailing, which is a bloody good job seeing as we live on a sailing boat. With Monty’s hull problems last year, we were always a little cautious I’ve really got into it this summer and just love the feel of controlling the boat when she is under sail. We spent many a day outside the bay, on off the Adriatic coast, with clean wind, deep blue waters and views of the mountains (and the many storms). We’ve learnt so much, by trial and error, as the year has gone on and I just wish we had the time this autumn to take Monty B on a voyage to somewhere.

But the reason why we are not doing this is because in 3 day’s time, we will be back in Blighty and in 9 day’s time, we will be standing on top of Mam Tor getting married. This is all followed by the biggest event I will ever be organising (particularly via a USB dial-up internet connection from a boat) – a two day party for around 100 beings, under canvas, in a beautiful spot in the Hope Valley. Our own “Weddingbury”, hopefully without the flash-floods, heavy-handed security and mud baths. See the ever-changing weather forecast for 26 September in Edale: http://www.accuweather.com/world-forecast-15day.asp?partner=accuweather&traveler=0&locCode=EURUKUK131Edale&metric=1

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Is it Pammy or Timmy? Who can tell.

We were a tad surprised yesterday when a boat anchored (a bit too) close to us at one of our favourite swimming spots and Pamela Anderson started prancing around on deck in a tiny sparkly bikini. A double-take was necessary - was this Tim in fancy dress? But no, it was the chestistically inflated scrap of a woman herself.

The bodyguards were quite exciting, with their sinister shades and bumps in their trousers (their holsters, I can only presume). The funniest bit of the whole episode was watching the diminutive Pammy attempting to swim, whilst being almost suffocated by her enormous floating breasts.
ps. this is Tim's re-enactment of his best fancy dress costume of all time, where he went as Pamela Anderson to a White Trash party.
pps the sleeping person in the dog suit happens to be yours truly.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Who'd have thunk it?







We finally bit the bullet and entered a regatta a few weeks ago.

Team: Katie (skipper), Tony Browne (tactician), Tim, Laura and Biba (willing crew).
Dogs: Louis, Mollie and Schoona.

Course: Tivat opposite sailing club - Verige channel - Perast islands - Verige channel - Zaliv Tivatska - Zaliv Hercegnovska - Igalo - Herceg Novi breakwater

I have always been somewhat reticent about entering a regatta due to our lack of tactical sailing experience and I didn't want us to look like total dicks. However, the addition of our tactician, Tony, and Laura (experienced crew) gave us the confidence to bite the bullet and enter the race.

Half an hour before the race, Tony was hoisting our spinnaker (which we'd never used before) and fashioned a quick bodge on our slightly broken spinnaker pole. The winds were light as we crossed the start line, but with our fab green spinnaker out front and the addition of 600 litres of water we'd just put in our tanks that very morning (always a race winning tactic, that one), we made good ground and were doing pretty well.

Once around the islands off Perast, we started the beat back up Verige channel and the weight of our boat compared to the (empty) plastic fantastics began to show. A heart-stopping near collision with Pedja, Tim's ex boss, added to the drama as we squeezed every inch out of every tack. Then into Tivat bay for several hours of floating about in dead air, time for a quick swim, some food and all the boats began to bunch up.


Tony's ever-ready, eager approach and constant monitoring with the binoculars gave us the edge for some of the time, finding the tiniest breaths of wind here and there but overall, it was a long slog up to Herceg Novi.

Then the nail-biting finale began, with us just ahead of the rest of the cruising yachts (the racing boats had come in ages before). A misunderstanding about the location of the finish line almost fooled us into thinking we had won - but upon realising we had to round another buoy, we gritted our teeth and with every single ounce of our psychic energy, we urged Monty B forward.

A last minute tactical and silent tack, fooled the boat nearest to us and we inched ahead towards the line, willing the boat to move faster, and as a beautiful breath of wind caught our sails, we crossed the line.
And won!

With legs like jelly, my hands still grasped around the wheel like they were frozen, I couldn't quite believe it. Cheers and clapping from all the other boats - all the local sailing guys, some of the first Montenegrins we had met back in 2007, the Yugoslavian army teams, all the blokes who reckoned that our boat was an "old timer's boat" or a "nostalgia boat" - we beat them all.


And me, a female skipper - a first in Montenegro, that is for sure. Plus the locals think we are utterly bonkers taking 3 dogs on the race too.

A brilliant job by the whole team but most of all to Tony for his brilliant tactical awareness and sail-trimming skill - we learnt so much that day and we all said that it was one of the best days we'd had in years.

And then I woke up and it was all a dream.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Working like billio

After several months of boat reconstructactivity, summer has hit like sticking your head in an oven and we are in the full swing of charter season. After getting down to our last 100 euros and being ever so slightly worried that the dream was exactly that (again), we picked up 6 charters in 2 weeks! Hooray! Bookings are coming in, the website seems to be getting some hits via search engines and everyone who comes out with us is having a gay old time. It is the best job either of us can imagine and yet again, we’ve made new friends in the process (which included being taken out for a civilised meal last night which somehow culminated in the demolishing of a litre of Black Label Smirnoff between four of us and getting in at 5am – rock n roll).

June is getting busy with visits from James and Lucie (our very first charterers and winter landlords) who we owe several days sailing, the Nurses paying their third visit and my mum and Richard, paying their third visit also. I’ve also had a random email from Sam Pink Hair, who reckons she’s en route to Monte on her bike. Crazy girl. I’ll eat my battered sunhat if she makes it. With chips.

Built a bed big enough to put a Tim in


Yes, finally, we’ve extended the bed. Or rather, Nathanial Xenon Comber extended our bed. Nat paid an eight day visit to re-gig our cabin and doubling the size of our bed. It is now bigger than king size and is absolutely wonderful. Marital bliss is resumed and Tim’s bruises have faded. Great to see Nat too and have our first proper boat guest staying on board.

He did seem to think that our idea of a hard working day wasn’t that akin to his. He clearly works too hard.

Cheers Nat – you have made a big difference to life aboard Monty B.

Dog mungus


I’ve decided to get my arse into gear and write a blog entry every week as of today. When we are busy, and rain is rare, it is difficult to find the time to commit to something so sedentary as even our days off at the moment seem to involve constant activity. I’m not complaining; not for a moment. Things are GREAT.

I think I’ve found writing the blog difficult since John’s demise, knowing that one of these days I really should change the title of my blog and update the profile, so that John is no longer “current” – but every time I go to do it, it makes me so sad I find something else to do.

But we have so much to report and the summer is already zooming along without record, so I need to start writing more regularly.

And I guess the first and most important bit of news is that we have a new dog. She is a diminutive blonde with a naughty gleam in her eye. Part corgi, part ferret or something like that, she is one of a kind. Prior to living on our boat, her home was outside the Pantomarket in Tivat (a half-decent supermarket), where she had stared meaningfully into shoppers eyes in exchange for cheap food. We’ve named her Mollie.

She has adapted to boat life amazingly well, apart from the occasional break for freedom during week one (one of which involved her jumping off the boat and swimming across the harbour). I think after spending the first two years of her life doing exactly what she liked, it took a bit of adjustment to being told what to do (I can relate to that). But she quickly realised which side her bread was buttered and she is now utterly devoted (to everyone who comes on the boat).

Erm, lots more to tell. Another post.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A feat complete

The lack of posts is indicative of how busy we've been but against the odds, we managed to put the insides of Monty B back together, move out of one flat and spring clean it, redecorate the previous flat and squeeze our stuff (which has somehow expanded at an exponential rate over the winter) into a 30 square metre space in some kind of organised fashion. We've also managed to fit in a 3 day holiday in Croatia (mate Danny's birthday spent in luxury villa near Dubrovnik) and a weekend trip to take in silent, unspoilt beauty of Skadar Lake (hosted by our Skadar resident pals, Ben and Emma). More of in another post.

There is still shed-loads to do and this week's plans have just been scuppered by the arrival of a nasty low pressure system with accompanying rain and wind.

We are currently on anchor in Muo, opposite Kotor Old Town, swinging around like crazy and being buffeted by harsh, gusting SE winds. We've been on out on anchor for nearly two weeks and it has been pleasantly calm. I'd forgotten what this felt like (and so had Louis, who is quivering on our bed being comforted by a sick Tim - sick in that he has been stung by one of Montenegro's evil bees which floor you for a few days). All very refreshing and .... elemental.

Monty B's hull strengthening programme

A bit of background here: in February 2008 we noticed that our hull had an indentation on either side which had, most likely, resulted from our rig being over-tightened before we left Greece combined with the heavy weather that we experienced on our journey from Greece to Montenegro in December 2007 (see blog entries http://yachtmontyb.blogspot.com/2008/03/potential-nightmare-scenario-1.html and http://yachtmontyb.blogspot.com/2008/03/right-place-right-time-right-people.html)
We were extremely concerned when we noticed the damage and were initially told that we wouldn't be able to sail in anything other than light winds until the hull was strengthened. In the spring, a second authoritative opinion was that the problem was nothing like as bad as it appeared and it was merely one of the batons in the hull that had warped slightly. This turned out to be true in the end, but the indentation is not a good thing and we want the peace of mind that Monty B is a truly strong sea-boat that will last last many more years which is why we decided to go ahead with the work.

So we took it pretty easy over the summer, sailing in nothing over a F4, with the expectation that the help that was offered to us by the local boatyard back in Feb, would materialise in the autumn. It didn't. All very Montenegrin.

But we struck lucky once again when a good friend of ours, Tony, who is a master of all things maritime and a trained chippy, offered in his rare moments of spare time to help us do it ourselves. We had consulted many casual experts on a way forward with this and Tony's plan, to create two new wooden ribs and a stringer made a lot of sense to us novices and looked achievable. Little did we know how much work would be involved at that point. Tony spent his precious days off his stressful day-job, working his chippy and boat-building magic.

So the work began in February.

We started by stripping out the entire saloon. The moulded seating had to be cut out, all the wooden supports and panelling and ceiling panels were removed which was no mean feat. Then the beginning of the truly messy tasks began with sanding down the fibreglass in the areas of the hull where our new ribs were going to be fitted. This took in the region of 8 person days and resulted in the first picture below. The supports you can see are steel ribs which are chainplates for the shrouds and you can also see the glassed-in steel batons that support the hull. It was the lower baton that had warped slightly causing the hull indentation.

The second stage involved cutting some difficult to track down marine ply for the ribs and stringer. This alone took two weekends. The result is the second picture below. This shows our port side with the newly built wooden ribs (the verticals) and new stringer (the horizontal) which provide exceptional strength to the hull. The new ribs were glued in using West System epoxy (another 10 extremely dull pages could be written on the trials and tribulations of getting our hands on that stuff, here in Monte).


The next stage was to glass in the entire structure then fair the visible parts of the rib. This is the part of the tale where we learnt how bloody noxious epoxy can be as during day 5 of exposure, I was dizzy and sick. Burping epoxy is never a good sign. Unfortunately, it had pissed it down most days whilst we were working so it was hard to ventilate the area. I stupidly only used a ventilator on day 5 after discussing how I was burping up epoxy with an Aussie superyacht skipper a few nights previously in the pub (I am nothing but a classy chick). Ironically, this is when I got sick.

Anyway, a week later this was all done and we vowed never to do fibreglass work for more than two days at a time, ever again.

Then, it took six days for Tim to reconstruct the saloon while I sorted out the rest of the boat, ready for moving back in. I have to hand it to the lad: he takes perseverance to a whole new level. Almost every single element of the saloon had to be recut to take account of the new ribs and stringer - and the most hair-tearing out moment came when the fibreglass seat mouldings touched the stringer itself - so some of the new stringer had to be planed back. Aghhhhh! (It was at this point that I got told not to come back to the boat until I calmed down).
The pics below show the saloon put back together. The only visible part of the new structural support are the painted white ribs, running parallel with the steel ribs, which actually look quite good in the flesh.
The final pics are our beloved Monty B back to being our home again.



So, that was that. It was a huge job but the end result is that we now have an immensely strong sailing boat that we now have supreme confidence in. We are utterly indebted to Tony for his guidance, hard work, easy manner and giving up his precious free time to help us give Monty B a many more years of a happy life. Also many thanks to Laura, his fiancee, for giving up her man on so many weekends.

For us, the experience has been irreplaceable. We have learnt loads of new skills, it has built our confidence in many quarters and we now know a hell of a lot more about our boat. Seeing her stripped down to the barebones shows you what yachts are all about. Though I have to say, we are very, very glad to have finished.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Day 7063



It feels like I have spent the last 7062 days working, dawn till dusk, beneath the decks of Monty B. I haven't, of course, but after finally getting the boat onto her cradle (the boatyard kept her on a buoy for 7 days until I went mad in Serbian), we have worked our pale, winter asses off.

Monty spent 8 days in total in the yard and we achieved almost everything that we had wanted to get sorted out of the water. Which isn't bad going considering that were planning on having her out for 3 months. However, in lieu of time has been a large amount of money. We ended up paying men to do jobs that we would have done ourselves, had we had time. But I, for one, am quite pleased that I didn't have to spend the winter inhaling old antifouling and breaking my back holding an electric sander above my head for hours on end. Terrible admission, I know, but as I have now certainly lost my "inhalation of highly toxic chemicals" virginity, I am glad that I have paid some old guy to get the cancer rather than me. Particularly as they are happy to use the age-old health and safety technique of holding a cigarette in the mouth, puffing on it continuously whilst dry-sanding years of old antifouling paint. I couldn't do that, you see. I've given up smoking and respirators just don't cut it (for a claustrophobic).

So, we had donkey's years of old antifouling removed, two coats of epoxy primer and two coats of antifoul added, a new dark red boot stripe and Monty's bottom was reborn. She looked like an Orca with her slinky, black below-waterline hull and fin keel. Gorgeous girl.

The second good decision made was to employ a very un-Montenegrin Montengrin, Miko, to repair our stern. Half hippy, half Francophile, Miko showed us how fibreglass work can be treated as an artform and taught me the value of patience. After many days of his detailed, deliberate, painstaking brushwork, we now have a beautifully rebuilt stern. And he has become a new friend.
While all of this was going on, we were sweating it out below decks (summer has arrived). Seacocks replaced, plumbing all checked, continuation of hull-strengthening involving daily epoxy poisoning and cleaned out fuel-tanks. God, was that it? Surely we did more than that..... oh yes, lots of chemical cleaning of the hull (which we've decided needs repainting in full next winter).

As agreed with boatyard (for once, as it was in their favour, they did what they said they would, when they said it), we were plonked back in the water on April Fools Day (30 minutes after midday so all the seacocks worked).

The difference in handling was unbelievable! The photos show how many tons of mussels we had clinging to the bottom (though the cold water of winter had done for most of the barnacles). But it was still slowing us down and affecting handling much more than we ever realised. It was like driving a new boat!

Plus having seen Monty stripped down to her bare bones, inspected every inch of her and cleaned and serviced all the motorised parts, we are now fully confident in her ability to do her job.

Now we just need the sails back on.

Back in Kotor harbour, after a day off nursing celebratory hangovers, we've been working full on days ever since in a race to finish the re-structuring work so we can put her back together and move back in. It has just taken us three days to do what we wanted to do in one.

We have about five days of work left to make the boat fit for living on and only two days to do it. Bugger.

So tired. Body threatening illness at the beginning and end of every day. Next day off in 4 days time and even then I'm meant to be DJing. So tired, so tired........................ keeps me out of trouble though. And it is all GREAT! No horrible surprises, everything went astoundingly well in boatyard, such a relief!

Friday, 20 March 2009

What they give with one hand

So, we get up bright and early, full of enthusiasm for our first day of work on the boat now she is out of the water.

For starters, I'd left my car in Dobrota a few days before so off we trekked - to find it with a flat battery. Grrr. Friends came to help and we were back on the road within the hour but it wasn't a great portent for the day ahead. A lurking feeling started in my stomach.

We arrived at the boatyard, excitedly trying to spot Monty B on her new cradle. But she was nowhere to be found......or was she? Wasn't that a North Wind ketch, swinging from a mooring buoy near the boat yard.

Yes! Of course it bloody was.

After all that, crew and all, a seemless entry into the dock and problem-free lift, they had decided to put her back in the water while they "made some space" in the boatyard.

We left them to their own devices with a promise that they would take her out later that day.

We rang them this morning. Monty B is still on the mooring buoy.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Hold on to your bar stools Part II





WE HAVE FINALLY GOT MONTY B OUT OF THE WATER!!!

Unbelievable but true. And despite the ton or so of mussels growing on her bottom, she is looking pretty good.
But we are avoiding the boatyard today as we left Monty hanging in the sling yesterday as the cradle she is meant to be going on, has been taken by a salvaged yacht that was washed up in Budva last week ,after sailing itself back from the Italian coast in a storm.

They grunted something about swapping our boat with another blah blah, quite how they are going to do it with only one travel lift and no spare cradle I don't know. So instead of bearing witness to their Balkan shennanigans, we are staying at home, nursing our hangovers and hoping that by tomorrow, Monty B will miraculously be sitting pretty on a cradle.

We are being charitable at this hungover moment in time.
We are still in shock that SOMETHING has actually happened. Are we really still in Montenegro? Or is this just some strange dream?
It all went like clockwork too and we had great crew: Laura, Ben and Emma. Cheers all.

Monday, 2 March 2009

A change is as good as a rest



Snowy scenes - the Bura blows, the snow falls, Monty B becomes Snowy b and the view from the Prcanj apartment.



After avoiding even glancing at our blog for weeks on end, I thought it was about time that I moved it on and put something a little more joyous on view.


Before I start, we'd both like to say a big thank you to everyone who sent us words of consolation about our John. We were really touched and it helped a lot to know that there were people out there who understood what we had lost. For such a small creature, he has left a huge hole.

Anyhow, enough.

Progress - there has been some:


1) Our mate Tony, who spent all of his twenties sailing the seven seas and is now a desk monkey (well, an important part of the soon to be Porto Montenegro marina), has spent the last three of his hard-earned Saturdays aboard Monty B. After Tim spent days stripping down the saloon to the fibreglass, the past three weekends have involved building the new wooden ribs that are providing one hell of a solid support for many years to come. Monty B is going to a beast! Tony expertise has been invaluable. As well as his years of working and living on boats, he is also a chippy by trade so we definitely found the right man for the job.

The ribs are now in but not glued. And we have decided to ditch using cheap polyester resin and go for West System epoxy on Tony's advice. If you're going to do a job, do it properly - and it will be a good pro job which is far more than we could ever have hoped for. Of course, we are now back in the "how the fk do we get WS epoxy in Montenegro?" and the answer is "you can't". For lots of reasons getting this stuff from anywhere to here is also a major headache - but we are getting there.

2) The best bit of news we've had for a long while is that A Day out on Monty B is now official! We are now part of Avel Yachting and have full public liability insurance so all we need now is a boat. Our new website is at http://www.montenegro4sail.com/ if you want to take a peek.

3) Windshield, ahh, the windshield. Well, almost got all the years/layers of silaflex off the GRP. Our current plan, supported by some and poo pooed by others, is to use 8mm plexiglass and a heat gun. And somehow, miraculously, a windshield will appear. I think it is time to invest in a camcorder.

4)After resigning ourselves to the fact that the boat wasn't going to come out of the water at all this winter (except for a 24 hour clean down and antifoul), a friendly Russian called Yuri has offered us his boat cradle for all of March. Of course we found this out just after I'd booked my flight back to the UK for a week so we hope to come out for the last two weeks and get the bare essentials done. Better late than never, as they say. Or, I'll believe it when I see it, as I say.

Of course it is impossible for the boatyard to book us in or even consider scribbling it in a diary - we have to "ring them a few days before". Ok....

5) It snowed, a lot. Monty B was covered in snow which was quite a sight. Most of the month has been clear, cold and snowy - exceptionally beautiful.

6) I haven't had a proper drink for a month then made the classic mistake of mixing vranac (local red) with Nik Gold (local strong piss) on Friday night in quite significant quantities. This is why you shouldn't have time off booze, your hangovers are definitely worse; I felt DIABOLICAL on Saturday. There seems to be an unhealthy chemical reaction between said tipples which combine to create the most hardcore of hangovers. I actually uttered the words "this is the last hangover I ever have" and meant it (at the time).

7) Oh, and we've moved house. Not wishing to outstay our welcome in the lovely Harvey apartment, we are now living in a gorgeous stone building in Kotor Old Town, right on the back walls. It is a stunning place, all very country-cottage inside but top floor apartment so great views of the walls and battlements. Tim is in his element, I can tell ya. We traded a month's accommodation for 2 cruises on Monty B - a great deal for all of us.

8) I'm flying home for a week on Friday. This is the first time I've gone back to the UK since August 2007 so it is all rather weird.

WE HAVE FOUR WEEKS TILL WE HAVE TO MOVE BACK ON THE BOAT. FOUR WEEKS. FOUR WEEKS. FOUR WEEKS. Lots of jobs are started, none, I repeat none, are finished. We have no saloon, no windshield and still don't have a bed big enough to fit a Tim in.

The countdown begins...........







Tuesday, 10 February 2009

A Dog called John








Last week whilst out on one of our favourite dog walks, John ate some poisoned bait* that had been put down to kill animals. He was panting quite hard in the car on the way home and we thought he was just thirsty but when he was sick as we got out the car, we realised that something was very wrong. We called the vet who arrived within 20 minutes.

After 2 hours of constant treatment his temperature came back down to normal and he looked much perkier. The vet took him off the drip and said that the outlook was pretty good. John was standing up and even started looking around for the cat that was wailing in the distance.
Once the vet had left, John started to go downhill, his breathing became shallow and suddenly he stopped breathing. Tim rushed over and started to give him mouth-to-mouth and heart massage while I rang the vet in total panic. Then he started breathing again - small, shallow breaths, but breathing all the same. Tim had brought him back to life! It was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen.

The vet arrived shortly and put him back on the drip. But his temperature was dropping and he didn't look well. We just watched him, willing him to be okay. Within the hour, he suddenly stopped breathing again. The vet tried to rescuscitate him but his heart had stopped.
And that was it.

Not for one moment of the whole five hour saga did I think John would die. I couldn't believe that he could - not just like that. Not here one minute, gone the next. We just sat there, horrified, stupified, torn up inside. The vet was nearly crying too.
-----------------------

So our John has gone. The "best dog in the world" is dead. We buried him on the side of the mountain the following day.

He was my first dog. I saw his picture on Babbington Dog Rescue website and knew he was the one to complete our little family. I spent every single day that I knew him (other than 6 days spent mid Adriatic) with him by my side.

He was the most perfect dog when he was indoors or on the boat. Cuddly, quiet and ever so slightly solemn, spending most of his time curled up with his best mate, Louis. They adored each other - to the point that they shared food from the same bowl and Louis sucked John's ears every night when they went to sleep.

As soon as you let him out the door, he'd turn into this incredible running machine - terrorising anything furry that crossed his path (except dogs, which he avoided). He loved his walks and was lucky enough to get lots of them - despite sometimes wanting to throttle him for being so crazy, it was always a joy to take John for a walk because he so obviously gained so much pleasure from it. He had also recently discovered fishing - and could never quite get to grips with where the fish had gone when he dived in, squealing.

He could also jump as high as my shoulder. I know I'm not the tallest but in relative terms, that's a bit like me jumping to the top of our mizzen mast! What a dude.
________________________________________________________________

Everything was going so well; we were looking forward to such a bright, exciting summer. We were one happy little family and John's (senseless) loss has taken all our bounce away. Poor Louis has lost his best mate. He is so sad and keeps looking for him everywhere. We are doing our best to keep him perky.

Good night John John - we love you so much.
__________________________________________________________________

In some perverse way, we have to count ourselves lucky. Louis also displayed mild poisoning symptoms for 2 days and we suspect he may have eaten a little of John's sick (yes, foul, I know). He could so easily have been killed too - which just doesn't bear thinking about.

* This was identified by the vet from John's vomit which had meat in it which was stained bright yellow. He thought it was a banned pesticide called Kreosan which locals still use to poison animals. It is not an organophosphate (we have a poison antidote for that). This was an accidental poisoning; it was not meant to be eaten by someone's pet dog. However, it was left next to the path in a area where people walk their dogs, the mentality of which just beggars belief.

A message from Tim
If I have one valuable purpose in life, it is to protect the things I love. John was one of those things. A member of our family. Every morning I would greet him and Louis the same way. Their entwined, half-asleep little heads would lift up as I came into the room and allow me to lean down and cuddle them simultaneously with my own. That start to the day has been taken from me. I tried to protect him and he knew.

He was only six years old and we had him for his last two years. We saved him from a life of hunting and beatings and starvation, judging from his behaviour and appearance when we picked him up from the sanctuary. It is fortunate then, that dogs live in the present. He was so gentle at home yet manic on walks. But always obedient once trained. I have never seen a happier dog and he made us as happy in return. We had ten years left of John but now none. He has been removed absolutely and clinically by the indiscriminate cruelty of one man.

John was a beautiful dog. Whenever required he cuddled you, but only as long as his best friend Louis was ok. He never registered pain or discomfort. He never whined or sulked. Ever. Not in the worst storm or most dangerous trial. On the terrible voyage here from Greece I tethered the dogs to me when I thought we were going to get knocked down. Waves broke over him and he didn’t flinch. He never complained. Not even at the end. He was loyal and enthusiastic. He was honourable yet he could never know what this meant. He made us feel loved and he cared about us. He protected us whenever we were threatened. When four dogs attacked his mate and him, he charged. They were all bigger than him and they ran.

He feared nothing except the violence of man, and he was right to do so.

He loved Louis most of all. He was his best friend, always inseparable. Even though John was much tougher, he was happy to let Louis have the upper hand. He never challenged the pack, he was just delighted to finally be part of one and we were delighted to have him. Whatever he got from us, he gave back far more than he could have known. Just like all dogs.

John was extraordinary. I have had several dogs and I love and remember them all. But I have never known a selfless dog – it’s in their nature to put themselves first. John was absolutely selfless. We do not have children so our dogs are substitutes. Some people think we are mad for doing so. I think we are just filled with love. Our dogs know this as did John and all the others, as does Louis, as will all the rest to come, whoever they are. John died with our voices in his head and our hands on his heart. If I have this, I will think myself lucky.

We will meet again, my dogs and I. When my time comes, I will remember them all and they will run beside me one last time.

I miss you John, sleep well my beautiful boy,
Tim

* * * * *

Throughout life we love others and are loved in return. But that love often fades as we move on. The love for our dogs does not fade. They never betray or disappoint us and they deserve our care and protection whenever needed. During my research into local poisoning cases, I found this site. If you want to help pet and stray animals in Europe,
http://serbiananimalsvoice.wordpress.com/2009/02/02/vital-action-for-european-strays-and-pet-animals-a-request-to-every-eu-citizen-to-act-and-act-now-thank-you/

Finally someone has set up an excellent national database of UK rescue dogs. It's time to put the boot into those who profit from selling dogs and creating all these strays –
http://www.dogsblog.com/

Poisoning information for dog owners. I am also putting together a first aid kit for here, I have no doubt at all that if we’d had one at the time, it would have made a difference. If anyone’s interested, email us. See also:
http://www.actionagainstpoisoning.com/FIRST%20AID%20KIT/firstaidkit.html