Friday, 29 April 2016

CapeTown Capers

It has been several months now since the last post and whilst we have not been back on the boat we have been busy! After Italy we moved on to visiting John's brother in South Africa. I had been before and had been telling John for a while that we should go. John has not seen his brother for quite a time and then it was under sad circumstances, his Dads funeral. So after some discussion it was agreed we would meet his brother Arthur and his wife in Western Cape. John and I were there for over two weeks. The scenery was spectacular the weather great and the prices unbelievably cheap since the Rand has taken a nose dive. We spent five days touring the area around Stellenbosch and just had to go on a wine tour. It was a great day out, we visited five vineyards tasting a variety of beautiful wines, bought a few bottles to drink whilst we were there and finished off with a bottle of Port. If you go it's a must, every vineyard is different....different setting, different wine and all very welcoming.

We also went to Fishermans Wharf, Hout Bay, travelling along the beautiful coastline watching the yachts sail into the Bay,it did not look an easy sail coming in along that coast. The seals here seem to be well trained at hopping onto the quay for fish as the boats come in! The wharf has modelled itself on the area with the same name in San Francisco and whilst it is somewhat smaller it was a good place to lap up the sunshine with good food and of course excellent wine! 
After we said goodbye to Arthur and Lynne, it was so good to see them, we made our way along the coast to Hermanus. I had been there nearly thirty years and wow how it has changed! Then it was a small town where at the right time you could see the whale flipping about in the sea coming to feed off the abundant krill in the area. Not the right time for this in March but there is still lots to see regarding the whales in the area and Hermanus is a busy, bustling town with lots of tourists. We were staying outside Hermanus in a great little B&B, the Amakhosi Guesthouse, good value, a lovely breakfast and a good spot to use as a base to explore the region, and explore we certainly did.....
Off to Betty's Bay to see the penguins 

A beautiful meal in a great location up in the hills above Gans Bay, the Bella Vista, where we both had a delicious meal, a stunning bottle of red, a sweet and coffees all for the outrageous price of £33! 

The CapeCanopy Zipwire tour located in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, we zipped our way across eleven zip lines into a previously inaccessible and pristine part of  this amazing World Heritage Site. Whilst I have to admit to being a little wary about the thought of zipping across ravines it was actually the journey up to the top on the van that was more scary.......and that was before we had even started our zips down! The ride across this mountainous terrain was not made any better when John noticed that the handbrake on/ brake fluid low light was on! He did point this out to the driver when we got off, but I have to say we were mightily relieved that a different bus was at the collection point to take us down from where the zip lines had dropped us off! The drive down the hill was even worse than the ride up......not for the feint hearted! However a really great afternoon. I recommend it!

We were sad to leave South Africa and politics the Western Cape is a beautiful place. I am sure we will return. We left to return to the UK using Ethiopian Airlines, not sure why we booked it....well I do, it was cheap! This meant a stop off in Addis Ababa,only five hours but I was not sure what to expect. Well we found, a busy airport with not a Macdonalds or Starbucks in sight ( that's got to be a plus!) but restaurants with open bbqs selling local produce which gave the airport lounge a different smell, but the best things was the loungers where you could get your head down for a couple of hours if you weren't disturbed by the airport workers walking past shouting out various flights....' Beijing, Bejing anyone for Bejing!' No flash airline departure boards here! Well there was something but it didn't work! The flight itself was no problem and we arrived on time back at Heathrow just in time to catch the X26 bus to my Mums and for John to have his usual rant at Londoners who do not seem to know understand how to form an orderly queue....happens every time! LOL! 

Monday, 29 February 2016

And now for something completely different!

I have not posted on the blog for a while now ....that's because we are back in Blighty! John and I flew back to UK to see friends and relatives but also to go skiing! We had looked at going to North America but with all our gear back in a friends loft in UK it was going to cost us an arm and a leg to hire them in US. It was cheaper to fly back to UK and go to Europe. We chose Cervinia, Italy. It was a great place, with a view of the Matterhorn from our bedroom and snow falling nearly every day.... we had a great time. 

It was the first time that we had been on the slopes for about six years so it was a bit of a learning curve for us. We both realised we are getting older but also that we are not fit and need to do something about it! It is hard on a boat to keep fit have to work at it and I think we are the first to admit we have let it go for a while. 

Cervinia is a lovely town and we stayed at a great hotel, The Astoria. Great food and local wine so it was not easy for us to keep to our aim of trying to get fitter! Sticking to the nice wide blue runs we took it steady all week though I came a cropper once on the last day no harm done but a stiff back! 
One thing we decided to give a try was ice karting. This was right up John's street. It donned out in crash helmets and in the middle of a sow storm we whizzed around the track. Well John whizzed and I could tell he was in his element sliding around the bends. I on the other hand went slowly and still slid into the mountains of snow on either side of the track!  

Back in the UK our friend Gary invited us to test drive his latest toy, a seven metre rib. He was anxious to get his latest acquisition onto the Mersey to check out the 275hp engine. It was just unfortunate that he chose a really cold but comparitively windless day to fly down the Mersey past the wind turbines and towards the Irish Sea at 40 knots! Gary was in his element.... I sat in the back astride the seats clutching the handle with my fur hat on and looking like a wind blown  meerkat! It was cold, it was worse than cold it was blooming freezing. This is definitely a toy for hot weather climes. I think that I will stick to sailing! 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Miraflores ....Panama Canal part 2

Tied up to the large buoy in Gatun Lake, we said Adios to Victor and settled down to a well earned beer and a plate full of Spaghetti Bolognese. It was a very still, warm night and when we finally settled down in our cabin for some shut eye before an early 6.30 start the next day, I was hoping for a few good hours sleep. It was not to was just so warm in our bow cabin, when I did finally fall asleep I woke up to see John disappearing through the front hatch, he had decided to try to get some sleep on deck.
In what seemed no time at all it was 6.30 and I awoke to the sound of the Pilot Boat dropping off our Adviser for the day, Carlos. Carlos told us we had a slot at the Miraflores Locks of 11.10. It's roughly about thirty miles to the Locks so that meant we had to put our skates on. When you book to go through the Canal you have to give the powers that be an average speed. This has to be above five knots an hour, I have heard that they will accept no less. I don't know what Mike put down but we had to average six and a half if we were to make it on time. Carlos wasn't worried, he told us we had nine large ships coming towards us throughout our trip across the Lake and as we approached each of them he let us know the best way to approach and the 'short cuts' we could safely make in the marked channel. Once past each ship, he crossed it off his list and waited to make contact with the next. Carlos was a happy soul and a good adviser. As we motored along he told us endless facts about the Lake.
There are nine villages under the Lake, that were submerged when the Lake was formed.
During the dry season you can see the tops of the trees that emerge from the underground terrain as the water level drops.

The Smithsonian Institute has an Island on the Lake where they investigate and research the different animals currently living on the Lake.

Closer to the Miraflores Lock we saw Titan, apparently the biggest floating crane currently in use. This was formerly German, built during World War 2 and bought by the Americans for a couple of dollars. They then spent a considerable amount adapting it to be able to float. It is a big beast I have to say.

The prison where Noriega is currently imprisoned can be seen as you approach the Miraflores Lock.

They are constantly dredging the Lake and you can see this process as you make your way past the 200+ buoys on the way to the Locks.

We made it in time, they were running late and we had to hover outside the Lock waiting for a huge Passenger Liner to come out. Once that manoeuvre was completed it was our turn! This time we were going in the Lock first and the huge car transporter Fargo was going in after us. ' Couldn't  you get anything bigger?' We asked!
We made our way slowly in the Lock and repeated the same process. The line handlers on the lockside threw us the monkeys fist, we attached it to the bowline on the boat and then did our best to try to ensure the light line stayed out the water. We edged up to the last bollard before the exit lock gate secured our lines and waited for Fargo to make its way in. The tugs had some difficulty lining the huge vessel up as the wind was swirling and from where we were looking it seemed that he would only just fit in! As it slowly made its way into the Lock we heard the pilot say ' there's a yacht in front of me I cannot see it....can someone tell me how close I am!' Scarey Stuff!! Someone from the vessel came down and we could see him relaying information about our distance to Pilot on the VHF. That sight was a little more reassuring for us, as were the two dings of the bells on the mules telling the Pilot that they understood his instruction....but it edged its way to around 30 feet or so away before all the lines were tightened by the mules and it came to a stop.

The water level started to drop and we slowly let out the lines following Carlos's expert instruction. The stern lines were around the winches and I have to say this seemed a much easier process than pulling the lines in. However, out on the bow there is no shade and it's hot, very hot so a hat and sun tan cream is a must! Of course needless to say I had forgotten both!
Once out the first Lock there is a small lake a few hundred metres or so to cross so the guys take the monkeys fists in and they get thrown back at you in Lock two. At the next Lock you have the added joy of being watched by what must have been two hundred or so spectators who were watching from the viewing balconies, clicking away with their cameras and waving at you furiously. It seemed sort of strange to me that people would come on holiday to do this but each to their own I guess.
Once through the third Lock Carlos warned Mike on the helm that he would not need to drive out the Lock . It was also important for us to take the lines in quickly and only when he told us. We waited until the gates were open and the fresh water and salt water were nicely mixing then following his instruction we shot out of the lock gates at five knots in neutral! We were in the Pacific!

Mike tried to no avail to get on a buoy at Balboa Yacht Club. This yacht club does not seem to be very yacht friendly. They do not answer the VHF and when we finally got them on the phone it was a firm ' no chance'. It might have been better if we had let Carlos ring them but we were not too disheartened and we continued onto the anchorage at La Playita, put the hook down and cracked open a beer. Mike took us ashore in the dinghy where he was informed that it was $35 a week to use the dinghy dock. It was a very secure dock with guards and it was sound with a number of cleats to tie to. So whilst it seemed a bit steep, it does give you peace of mind if you are planning to go into Panama City.
Our job done ....we climbed into Rogers Cab and made our way back to Shelter Bay. It had been a great experience.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gatun Locks ...Panama Canal part 1 !

Just before the New Year we had a knock on the hull and our friends of Romano Mike and Gill were looking for line handlers at short notice ....all you needed to do was be able to tie a bowline. Well I can but sometimes if really rushed they go a little wonky! We agreed and I spent the next day tying bowlines to bottles, rails, other bowlines .....if it was stationary for any length of time I tied a bowline to it! We left Shelter Bay at around one in the afternoon and made our way to the anchorage outside Gatun Locks. The adviser was due at 3.30 as we dropped the hook Mike called the Port Authority to tell them we were in place to pick up the adviser only to be told that he would now arrive around 4.00 and we were going through with a container vessel called Atlantic Klipper. 

It got to 4.10 and we saw a pilot boat making its way towards us. It very skilfully edged it's way alongside and Victor our adviser hopped on. He explained to us that we were going behind Atlantic Klipper in the locks and to make our way slowly behind it to the lock. We were the only yacht going through so all four line handlers would have to work.....sometimes if there are two or three yachts going through at the same time the yacht in the middle has little to do while those either side work just two lines each. We had prepared the boat while we were waiting outside the lock, covering the solar panels with cushions to protect them from the possibility of being damaged by a monkeys fist (the hard ball of rope at the end of the line which would be thrown over from the side of the lock to the boat's a bit like a cricket ball.)Romano also had a kayak attached to the side which had to be bought onto the boat. The covered tyres that supplemented the fenders were tied on and we figured we were just about ready.The hundred foot lines were passed through the centre of the cleats so as to stop the lines flicking off when we went down the locks at Miraflores. We had put bowlines in all the lines so all we needed to do now was put the monkeys fist through the bowline tie another bowline to attach and we were sorted ....Simple!

Two tugs gently pushed Atlantic Klipper into place so it was lined up with the docks and we watched the mule trains do their job tightening the lines and ensuring the container ship was ready to move along the lock towards the lock gate at the other end of the lock. As we watched waiting for Victor to tell us to go he was explaining that the back of the boat was the brakes and the main thing was to keep the lines tight and to work together to keep the boat in the centre of the lock. We made our way slowly into the lock and he shouted at the lock side line handlers to throw the monkeys fist in the centre of the boat to avoid both the solar panels and our heads! 

With monkeys fist in hand I secured the light line to our bowline and held it up so the light line did not drag in the water. Mike slowly moved the boat into place behind Atlantic Klipper making sure the guys on the lock side did not have to run but keeping a good walking pace.Victor told us the boys gets p***ed off with you if you make them run and we didn't want to do that! Once in situ the guys took in the light line with the line attached and put the bowline around the bollard. Victor then gave us instructions of how tight he wanted the line to be. As the water gushed into the locks it was pretty hard work bringing that line in and keeping it tight. Gloves were a must. 

There are three locks to go through before you get to the lake but once through the first lock I felt a lot more confident. I realised that there is no rush and if you just followed Victors instructions then no problem.....just enjoy the experience. Once the lock gates open its bring the long blue line in as quick as possible and hold up the light line for the guys to walk along the lockside. They had to climb up the stairs so you need to hold that light line nice and high so it doesn't snag on anything and break. Once up the stairs it's just a matter of the same again ......once in place let out the blue line so they can attach to the bollard and tighten. It was getting dark by the time we were going through the last lock and once through to the lake it was around 7.15 and pitch black. Victor piloted us to the buoy were would stay the night. The buoy is not light and it's really not that easy to see. He had already radioed for his pilot boat to come and collect him and shortly after he helped us secure to the buoy he was stepping onto it once more to hop onto the pilot boat and away off into the night. He told us that it was likely we would have a different adviser the following day and he would arrive at six thirty and tell us what time we would go through the locks at the other end the lake. In the meantime it was time to crack open a beer. We had deserved it! 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Shelter Bay Wildlife

Shelter Bay Marina is situated in what was formerly Fort Sherman, the US army base that was used for jungle training as well as being the primary defence base for the Caribbean section of the Canal. It was handed back to Panama in 1999 and whilst it is now a nature park all of the officers quarters, the handball court, the church and other assorted buildings are still standing but in a desolate and sad state of repair.
This is a street sign at first I thought it was beware of low flying hats but then figured it was telling you there is a sentry station ahead!

In an effort to keep some semblance of being fit we go for a walk through the park which is full of wildlife. One of the most beautiful things here are the big, blue butterflies. They are huge,some the size of your hand and their turquoise wings catch the sunlight beautifully, unfortunately I have not been able to capture one on camera so I have to admit to cheating and copying a photo of one from Google images! Never going to be another David Bailey.....

The Howler monkeys are also great, you see them high up in the trees and John always encourages them to make themselves heard by doing his Tarzan impersonation. Surprisingly this works and they often reply to him whilst keeping way up in the top of the palm trees looking down at interlopers on their patch. They often get set off at night when it seems that a change in barometric pressure can set them off and at the same time give us fair warning that rain is on the way! Clever stuff!
There are also so pretty mean leaf cutter ants here. They are huge and whole armies of them march across the road from one side of the jungle to the other. I'm not sure why there are leaves on both sides of the road but I'm sure it's all part of some cunning plan!

I've also got to mention the Crocodiles. Here is the marina there are a couple of crocs, not good news if you want to dive down and clean the hull. One of them has been given the name Rocky and he can often be seen sunning himself over on the other side of the channel that comes into the Marina. We have also seen them in the Canal and once through Gatun Lakes you are advised swimming due to the Crocs. We stick to the swimming pool! However they have been known to come up into the jungle and when out on our walks John arms himself with a good hefty stick to ward off Crocodiles or any other predator that might be on the look out for a snack!....with his Crocodile Dundee hat on he looks the part at least! We do not want to end up as a light snack for the Turkey Vultures that pass through Panama on their way to Argentina and can be seen circling over the Jungle areas looking for carrion. These things are big ugly brutes!
Whilst on the subject of wildlife I feel I have to mention a store we found in Panama City. It was called Tactical Army, a pretty unusual name for a store we thought. On closer inspection we found that we could buy anything you wanted as long as it was in khaki or camouflage colours. It's motto was ' Everything you want for Battlefield and Weekend Warriors' ! Its stock included guns and knives of all shapes and sizes, camouflage tents and many items of battle dress! Weird or what? Not something that will catch on in the UK I hope!