Thursday, 19 August 2010

Why do you only appreciate things when you about to lose them?

We fell asleep on deck last night after watching our regular dose of gritty, English drama reminding us that real life isn't actually like this - on this occasion Ken Loach's Raining Stones.

Woke up around 2am, NOT being bitten by mozzies for once, but maybe so I could catch the spooky moonset. As the near full moon slipped behind the mountains, bit by bit the silvery light that had drenched the decks all evening retreated, leaving true darkness. One of those purest of natural moments that takes your breath away.

It's coming to the end of the season - this is the last full on week - and, sadly, yes I am glad. But I'm also trying to make the most of every day of this most perfect of Augusts (temps in low 30's, cool breeze at night, cloudless sunny days, no storms, sea breezes). Our plan to keep some free time for ourselves this summer still didn't really work in terms of socialising as attempts to meet up with mates have been thwarted by an inability to communicate (and that's not just the rum). Talking to strangers all day, every day, kind of does that to you in your spare time.

But can't complain - everything has gone amazingly well. Plus we have something else in the pipeline which is in the process of being finalised - more of when it's official.

23 August 2010
After dropping off our guests tonight, we motored across the bay with the graduated orange/red/purple light of sunset fading in the west and anchored in near darkness. We've found a particularly lovely spot off the uninhabited shoreline of Sveti Marko island in Tivat Bay which is only 30 mins from the marina but remote enough to be tranquil, sheltered from northerlies, open to sea breezes from mid-morning to late evening so naturally air-conditioned and the water is clean. Plus it is a 30 second jaunt to the shore with the dogs, who run along the pebbled beach with gay abandon (until the Furminator arrives - more of later).

Anyway, we dropped anchor as a full moon of jaw-dropping size and brightness rose over the mountains of Lovcen, then stripped off and dived into the sea which glistened and shuddered under the moon's rays. It was warm enough to dry out on deck which we did so accompanied by a winter stew that I'd made in the pressure cooker. It doesn't get much better than this.

26 August 2010
No work yesterday so spent the day at Sv Marko and just bummed around. I have forgotten what it is like to simply get up and have "nothing to do". Bloody great. Read my new book, fiddled with things, snorkelled the crappy reef and took an afternoon snooze. Oh, and made the mistake (yet again) of reading online newspapers from the UK and got very angry. I am keeping my daily rants to the verbal, and not committing them to posts.

Woke up this morning early, watched the mist and perfect reflections of mountains and cyprus trees on the water. Then Tony arrived in the Porto RIB with Schoona the dog who we are dog-sitting so with three dogs for company, the usual mayhem commenced.

Work today. Yesterday was a temporary and much enjoyed blip.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Camping in Bosnia (Republika Srpska)

For a change of scenery, we decided to trek off Bosnia & Herzegovina for a few days (camping not boating, seeing as they only have about half a mile of coastline). We weren't sure what to expect really and were pretty ignorant about the country as a whole. So the first thing we learnt was that BiH has been split into two parts: Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. Most of our journey took us through Republika Srpska which outside of the occasional small town, is pretty much deserted/undeveloped and the scenery is similar to Montenegro, though softer and prettier. And the roads are bloody great - no potholes, relatively flat and empty of other vehicles. And no high-powered cars being driven by testosterone-fueled dicks.

The scenery on entering the Sutjeska National Park was breathtaking. Similar soaring, steep-sided mountains and karst formations to that of Montenegro with razor-sharp peaks, trimmed with pines. We entered the only (Deliverance stylee) settlement in the area, Tjentjeste, and found the campsite. It should have been a pretty spot, along the banks of a fast-flowing glacial river, beneath trees providing much needed shade. However, the abandoned and burnt-out buildings (including the toilet block), the lack of any other campers and the presence of a picnic table full of around 100 empty beer bottles and a group of men - plus another 4 Land Rover's worth of Landmine Clearance workers having a BBQ gave the place an uncomfortable feel.

However, having driven for 6 hours and having no alternative, plus it being a great little spot for a tent, we stayed and ended up there for 3 nights.

It was a gorgeous area but utterly inaccessible due to the only 2 roads going off into the mountains being terrible, unless you have a 4WD. And believe me, we tried, having driven on uncovered road, up a mountain for around 30 minutes before finally giving in (and a good job too as not long afterwards, a huge logging train came down the single-track road in the so-called "virgin forest" - well, it is virgin forest - but not for much longer if they intend on logging it!). There is also no tourist info, no decent mapping and no obvious marked trails. Plus, and this is more worrying, there are still unmarked landmines around. So not the best area for trekking at the moment, it has to be said. It is just all so empty and weird. Not empty like Monte is empty up North - more kind of sinisterly empty.

Many bad things have happened there - both in recent times and during WWII. Thousands of Partisans were trapped in an area, only 5 minutes walk from the campsite, and pretty much starved out by the Germans, only some of them escaping via a mountain pass just above where we were staying. There is an impressive monument and 3300 Parisans buried there. More recent evidence of atrocity includes the many shelled and burnt out houses along the roads. We also got followed by a weird, quite insane looking fellow in his car up one of the mountain roads who, when we turned around and met him coming the other way, careered back down the mountain in reverse trying to get away from us then tried to block the road (I just stepped on it and drove off as fast as possible!).

This would have been all weird enough but there was a walker's tent on our site which looked lived in but there was no one there. After 2 nights of them not returning, I spoke to the campsite manager/(empty) hotel manager about it asking whose tent it was and what was going on, expressing concern that it didn't look like the guy had gone off for days (the tent had been left without a flysheet, stuff left outside, compass in his tent etc - which we put back inside as it looked like it would rain). We discovered he was a 21 year old French boy which worried us even more. We left a note for him in his tent when we left and again, I expressed concern to the campsite owner and emailed the French Embassy when we got home.

A few days later back in Montenegro, I got a call from the Bosnian police who had found my note. The lad had not returned. We spoke to the police again today (2 weeks later) and they have not found him, despite a full-scale search including support from NATO. So a seemingly tragic and grim end to a strange little trip.

Payback time

For most of May, we had a temporary crew member, Sam Pink Hair (who no longer has pink hair). This is how Sam ended up on our boat:

Back in the crazy days of 2006, whilst at an outdoor party near Nottingham, I split my trousers right across the backside, exposing bits I really didn't want to show. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was in big trouble, not wanting to spend the remaining x amount of hours with my bottom showing. I spotted a pink-haired young lass who had both a skirt and trousers, begging her to lend me her trousers, with the persuasive "I promise I will make this worth your while". She eventually conceded despite needing both items (she has a generous nature, i later learned).

Our paths crossed again months later and we became friends of sorts (and I returned her jeans together with a pack of vegan ginger biscuits and a bottle of plonk). There was a part of me that I recognised in Sam and I really hoped she didn't spend the remaining years of her 20's being a total waster and instead, follow her desire to sail the seven seas (starting with the ARC).

So, one thing led to another and as she isn't a total waster, she finally made it to Montenegro and I got pay her back for lending me her jeans.

It was a useful experience for us, sharing Monty B, as previously we had only had people stay for a couple of days. And it really worked - it was great. Though she is a very easy person to have around and share space with . It did make me realise quite how bonkers I can be at times though, and in turn has made me sort it out a bit. She left to join a yacht in Corfu that she found on the internet for new adventures. I was actually quite jealous which I know is totally crazy as of course, in reality, having my own yacht is infinitely better than sailing someone elses (which I have had proved this week, but more of later).

Saturday, 3 July 2010

The reason for being

Oh my god, it's summer and I haven't written about spring yet. So, to follow on from the previous post, we didn't win the sailing race. In fact, we didn't finish. Poor, I know, but there was next to no wind (as usual) and I reckon less boats finished

than didn't. Monty B became a floating pub, the foredeck team reluctantly balancing their beers on deck when the spinnaker required gybing, saying something about the wind strength.

Sadly, our master sail tactician, Tony has bought himself a 30 footer which is a true contender for future races so Team Monty B has been temporarily disbanded. If we don't stand a chance, I don't wanna play!

As a pre-season shake-down, we "did" the Montenegrin coast all the way down to Ulcinj and back.We gave ourselves a week but the whole thing only took 4 days in total (there and back!) and as there was nowhere safe to anchor in the constant westerlies, we overnighted in Bar marina (€45 a night for the most basic of basic but stunning views as it nestles in a natural bowl of towering, steep mountains). The anchoring issue is a real problem for anyone cruising Montenegro in anything other than calm weather. Bigova and Valdanos are the only properly safe anchorages and even then, not from all angles. Bigova is rolly in anything from the west, and as the waves rarely come in the same way as the wind, it can be uncomfortable.

Getting out of the Boka was just what we needed though and just casting off our lines each morning and trundling off to see what the day was going to throw at us was superb. The desire to just keep on going was strong, but duty calls and we had to return to Porto for work reasons.

The most notable part of the trip was on the last leg down the coast, sailing downwind to Ulcinj with the wind rising to the point that despite the hot sun, I put on a jacket as I was getting chilly (this should have given us a clue to the wind strength). Anyway, to cut a long story short, when we turned round at Ulcinj it was roaring (god knows how we hadn't clocked it) and all hell was let loose on deck as we hadn't reefed before turning and were massively over-canvassed. We jumped to it, reefed, locked away the dogs, sorted the boat out and tore off back up the coast.

The conditions were just on the edge of our comfort zone with most waves washing the decks and several soaking the helm and a slight anxiety that we were going to struggle to get in before dark as the winds were right on the nose and we had to tack all the way up the coast. But it was sunny and the water looked superb - it makes such a difference (compared to it being foul or dark).

Anyway, everything just fell into place. We'd reefed just the right amount, plotted our course and tacked efficiently, the helminig was exciting, we put the dogs down and didn't worry about them (they hated it) - we did absolutely everything right. We surfed down the waves as we entered the small, tricky entrance to Bar Marina, tied up safely and were utterly elated.

Finally, the last few years make sense. There are lots of reasons why we are still in Montenegro but something had always gnawed away at me: "we should be out there on the high seas, adventuring". Now it has all become clear.

We have not been hiding away in the bay for the last two years, too traumatised by our ordeal back in Dec 07 to anything other than poke our noses out on fine days, hell no! Well, maybe a bit - but more importantly, we've been learning to sail and properly handle our boat, in a relatively safe environment with help only a phone call away if ever needed (only once!). And two years down the line, I do believe that we are now fully equipt, experience, confident and competent enough to deal with most situations in a seaman-like fashion. Which was certainly more than could be said when we first got on our boat three years ago.

The realisation that we have grown and learnt so much whilst in Monte was a revelation and has made our reason for being here clear.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Back on the water II

He has finally left me alone - oh no he hasn't, we are now discussing whether we need to buy any more 3in1 oil (we don't; we've got loads, it just requires looking the THE cupboard, maybe moving one or two other bottles out of the way if it isn't instantly obvious..... and the battle of the sexes goes on).

I would love to spend my life burbling on to myself and the world in general, via my keyboard. But it is rare, on a boat, that you have a long enough period of silence to form one simple sentence, let alone anything worthy of someone taking a minute out of their lives to read.

However, the fact that we are back on the water is reason enough to document what it going on right now, for posterity and for looking back on during the long, wet winter months. We are currently in the long, wet spring months but today the sun is out so we are all hands on deck, prepping the boat for the first race of the season: the Tivat Regatta on Saturday.

I'm still a tad uneasy about racing Monty B, being my pride n joy and all that - and my home. My witchy clutter of oil lamps, bits of stone, shells, wood, pine cones, dead animal skulls, a tortoise shell and interesting feathers, which make my boat my home, will have to be cleared away to prevent mayhem down below when we are tacking up "The Chain" (Verige channel).

But pride from our previous (lucky?) result (see Stevova Regatta winnners) has made me put aside my reservations of any risk and I am actually very excited. We have a team - yet to practice - we are even servicing the damned winches. We have arranged for a diver to visit today to do a full clean of our underbelly (we are not getting hauled before the season for more reasons than I care to mention) and I am on spinnaker repair this afternoon. this space after Saturday.

We spent our first dreamy days and night out on anchor at the weekend, making the most of a brief respite in the pissing down rain to remind ourselves of why we live on a boat ie. not so we can live in a half-built marina, surrounded by other boats blocking the view, yawing on our mooring lines and being driven insane by building noise. It was so beautiful and inspired me to do some repainting of the hull (which was then wrecked by a surprise rainstorm that evening that drove dirty rivulets of water into my drying paintwork). Ah, Montenegro - we love you!

Right, my face pack has dried and the dogs are crossing their legs which means it is time for me to do something else.

Back on the water

I am trying to write a blog entry but Tim won't shut up so I can't concentrate.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Landlubbers ahoy!

We've spent the past three months living in utter luxury. Care-taking an amazing villa, tucked away above a tiny fishing village (Bigova) overlooking a small blue/green cove, which is one of our our favourite summer anchorages. From every window you can look out to sea; when the southerlies blow up, hours are spent simply watching the surf crash onto the headlands stretching out to the north.

From the huge balcony from our bedroom (which has floor to ceiling windows on two sides looking out to sea), rises the Orjen mountain range, whose snow-line gives an indication of the weather we can expect that day.

There is no one here. It is silent, save for the wind murmuring through the undergrowth surrounding the house and the constant movement of the sea below. The dogs get walked straight from the front door, along various little tracks. A daily habit is a stroll late afternoon as five minutes along a track means I can watch the sun dissolve into the sea. Even on the cloudiest days, the world changes colour for 10 minutes at sundown (and I don't mean it just gets dark!).

We have more space than we know what to do with. We can spend a whole day in the same house without seeing each other. We live here quite happily without getting in the car for days on end, usually only reluctantly leaving our hideaway to stock up on vegetables.

According to everyone here, it has been the wettest winter ever (and for Montenegro, that is saying something) but as we are living in relative luxury (in fact, it isn't just relative luxury, it is TOTAL luxury) the winter has been easy. Learning from last year's banging-heads-against-brick-walls experience, we haven't attempted to get work done on the boat. We've done plenty of work off the boat but have been leaving preparation for the season until the weather improves.

However, we've got two weeks remaining. Then we're back on Monty B.

Shit! Where has the time gone?

Suddenly there is a big old list of "Things to do", isn't there always, but many are "Things to do before moving back onto the boat". As we have been doing guardiennage work this winter, the rare good-weather days are spent at the marina doing exactly that. I wouldn't say Monty B has suffered as a result as she was in a pretty good state when we finished the season and I guess we are only talking one day a week of decent work-weather - so realistically we've probably only lost a week's full-on work. Which in the scheme of things is nowt. But now I'm beginning to panic a bit.

We do seem to have done a lot of partying lately, including the Montenegrin leg of our wedding which involved a significant amount of wiggery. I'm definitely not complaining on this front but I was shocked to discover that I was working my socks off all week then having a big blow out at the weekend. And quite happy with that. Which is rather a lot like landlubbin' work schmerk schmukking.

So boat life beckons before landlubbin' gets too cozy and I'm ready for it. I miss my clothes smelling of diesel.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Paul and Rachel Chandler, still not released

I don't know how familiar those who aren't in the boating community are with this story, but it's something we've been following closely since the outset.

This liveboard couple were kidnapped by Somali pirates, 500 miles offshore (!), in full view of a British Navy ship who did nothing to intervene. Three months later these poor people are still being held captive and look to be in a particularly bad way.

My initial thoughts were to "write to my MP to express concern" but then remembered how utterly pointless that is. What can we do? I've looked on the internet to see what the family have to say but they are keeping a very low profile, probably on Foreign Office advice so it's hard to know exactly what, if anything, is happening.

I feel for these people so much.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Been and done

So, here's the long awaited and quite dull list of what we've been up to over the past few months.

Ahh gawd, I can't write this. It's just too dull. What we've done isn't dull; but writing about it is.

I must write when the moment is fresh. From now on, I will do so. Plus Tim has woken up so I now have this continuous noise in the background which unfortunately I sparked off by having a fit about banker's bonuses (the banks upping their bonuses so that "ordinary" people in effect pay the additional tax that these elite superbeings were supposed to be paying on their obscene chunks of cash). And now I've set him off, chuntering on and on and on.

Grrr, in a nutshell:

- we managed to stay on the boat until early December due to a late winter, and the worst of the wet weather being spent away on our honeymoon and using our friend's flat in Kotor Old Town (gorgeous).

- now living in a luxury pad, housesitting for 3 months, in a tiny fishing village called Bigova. It is true luxury living, overlooking a cove and the open sea so we are still close enough to the elements. And it's well off the beaten track, no light pollution so psychedelic, starry skies and the best night's sleep in years. Great dog walk to a lighthouse on a rocky peninsula, straight from the house. Dreamy.

- cracking on with Monty B's continual maintenance/upgrading (ahem) - yeh, maintenance is probably a better word. But after a few weeks of ridiculously warm weather (17 degrees at night on one occasion, weird shit), it is now set fair with a big high pressure system sitting over us for a week already, forecast another week so cold but crystal clear and warm in the sun.

- helping mates with some boat guardiennage in the marina so getting some more pennies in and keeping busy.

I have to say, living on the coast rather than in Kotor Bay has utterly changed our experience of Montenegro in winter. We now live just out of the mountain belt, though still have great views of them. So we watch the weather come in but it somehow misses us and we remain bathed in a little warm, sunny bubble whilst the maelstroms pound the bay.

The dogs are fine too, now Louis has got used to living in a large, multi-floored, echoey house with a TV and washing machine. The sounds of which were all terrifying for a while.

The one thing we haven't done for ages is go sailing. So we are making the most of the Bura blowing (that strong, clean, cold NE wind that I've gone on about in so many posts) and the sunshine and we are off out for some freezing cold sailing today with mates. Our friends Marjan and Cecille are going to attempt to race us in their spanking Hanse 54 (it is Marjan who formerly referred to Monty B as a "nostalgia boat" and "old timer's boat" but had to eat his words when we beat him in the Stevova Regatta). He is back looking for glory and we are hungry for a repeat victory so watch this space. He is already making excuses for a potentially embarrasing defeat by mentioning his 6-month pregnant wife (Cecille) and 2 year old child as crew. We have seen his pregnant wife by adding one of our own (Laura) and raised him THREE dogs. No two year olds allowed on our boat though, they are officially banned.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Montenegro earth tremor

No time like the present, I keep telling myself. How many times have I written a blog entry in my head? I'm being nagged to watch "Sharpe's Challenge" - Sean Bean in tight trousers - so can't stay long. So here's a synopsis of the last 10 posts that I haven't written:

(this is as far as that post got) It is now a week later and I am up at 7am due to earth tremors. Around 5.30am, I woke up with the bed shifting and shaking, instantly thinking it was an earthquake. But it was just Tim finally submitting to his (rare nowadays) insomnia and getting up.

Then weirdly enough, an hour or so later, I was awoken by what I thought was Tim getting back into bed. But there was no one there. Assumed it was a dream and went back to sleep.

Was rudely awoken 30 minutes later by an undeniable continuous shaking of the bed, this time I jumped up and out of the room to find Tim legging up the stairs to find me. So it wasn't my imagination (the second and third time), it was an earth tremor.

So I got up, dressed (can't be made homeless without a bra on) and made our escape plan should something more significant happen. But it hasn't and both Tim and our early warning system, Louis, have finally dropped off to sleep on the settee.

So for once, I have enough peace and quiet to commit my thoughts to paper. And I've been reading about the Haitian earthquake and imagining what the hot, hungry person who sent the text message from inside a collapsed building (having been under the rubble for 5 days) must be thinking and feeling right now.