Monday, 6 July 2015

You Can NOT be Serious...

Y'know, generally I try to keep politics off the blog. What I like to focus on are the positive things in daily life about Greece and of course Rhodes in particular. But I have to confess to being more a than a little fed up with what I keep hearing coming through the media in the UK, if not elsewhere on the planet too, about this beautiful country.

First and foremost, I can cite a "good" example of the bad impression, the wholly inaccurate impression, that the public abroad is being given about what's going on here. Bear with me, it's coming below.

Yesterday (Sunday) I did my usual Bay-to-Bay excursion. it's a really wonderful day trip that leaves all the guests feeling well and truly chilled out. We cruise along the impossibly beautiful east coast of the island from St. Paul's Bay in Lindos to as far north as Tsambika beach, where we do our first "swim-stop", then make our way back to Stegna, where we go ashore for a scrumptious lunch in Grigori's restaurant, plus we give the guests plenty of time to laze about in one of the beachfront cafés in the resort or perhaps on the quite beautiful beach that Stegna can boast of, before returning to the boat (The Mandalena) for the next leg of the cruise. We stop mid-afternoon for another swim from the boat at the picturesque golden sandy beach of Agathi, in the shadow of historic Feraklos Castle (see this post too), before once again cruising at a leisurely pace all the way back to Lindos for a 4.30pm arrival and the transfer of the guests back to their accommodation.

I had guests yesterday from four differenr countries. There was a handful of Russians, a couple of dozen Poles and a dozen or so Germans. We also had nine from the UK, including one couple that I was delighted to see again, because they'd done the same excursion with me last summer too. The whole bunch of 50 or so grown-ups and children gelled together seamlessly and everyone had a thoroughly good time. Chatting with one of the British couples, we got around to the subject of how the British public perceives what's happening here in Greece.

   "When I told my mother we were coming to Greece again she was mortified," said my female guest. "She said, 'please don't go to Greece - you'll get mugged.'"

Fortunately, my guest had the good sense and indeed the knowledge to reply to her concerned parent, "Mum, if you think that, then you don't know the Greek people." Of course, they stuck to their guns and they came. They're having a wonderful holiday. Now. Here. On Rhodes. Shock horror.

This is what you would have seen on the trip yesterday for example (tongue firmly in cheek for the captions by the way)...

The beach at Stegna, Sunday July 5th 2015. So unsafe for tourists, eh?

This is Andonis, son of Kosmas, who runs the boat the "Mandelena", jumping overboard out of sheer fear...

That's our boat, and this is again Stegna Beach. Look at all the muggers, I was literally trembling with apprehension.

One of my young German guests at the bow, expecting a Greek to assault him at any moment for simply being German.
You know what I think? I think that the BBC (for example) has a reporter in a hotel in Athens. That reporter goes out into the street and looks for some graffiti on a roller shutter and then tells the camera how society here is falling apart. When, though did you last see one of those reports coming from one of the islands? Hmm? And how much graffiti and low-life can be found in every city around the world?

Here on Rhodes (and it's pretty typical of the islands in general) daily life goes on. People sit in cafés with their frappés, you can buy water melons or freshly picked cherries or nectarines from roadside vendors, you can draw as much cash as your own bank in your country permits as a daily withdrawal limit from the local ATM, several new ones having recently been installed at key positions for the convenience of tourists here in the south of the island. Waiters stand at the entrance to tavernas trying to tempt passers-by to sample their delicious local cuisine, tourists amble the streets of Lindos feeling the cheesecloth shirts and fiddling with the trinkets festooning the souvenir shops, Greek Bouzouki music wafts across your ears as you order your Retsina and Greek salad, old ladies are hanging out their washing and cats are stretching lazily on shady windowsills and door steps.

And over all this hangs the pallour of fear and menace, right? WRONG.

I want to do something here that I've never done before on this blog. I'd like to ask you the reader to do your best to contact the media in your country and tell them that they're getting it wrong. Just because Greece has a major financial crisis to contend with does not mean, does NOT mean that people coming here for a vacation need overly concern themselves. You know the best way to help Greece climb out of the pit she's in? 

Come here for your holiday. Dead simple. see for yourself. 

Those who have not allowed themselves to be put off by the hype that's pumped out through the foreign media can all testify to the fact that here in Greece, particularly on the islands, the holidaymaker would be forgiven for not even realising that there IS a crisis.

Next month my wife and I will have lived here on Rhodes for ten years. I am sometimes asked, "Would you leave, maybe go back to the UK?" Our answer, which is echoed by thousands of ex-pats all across Greece, is a resounding "you must be joking."

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Post About Someone Else's Post

I've never done this before, but I would be remiss not to share this with my readers. It's marvellous.

Amanda Settle, I take my hat off to you...

Click here folks.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Under the Great Big Tree

Last Monday we made another visit to Gilma, our old friend who lives in his modest little cottage down a path from the main road somewhere south of Plimmiri. When you arrive at the gate, which is to your left as you proceed along the lane, you are looking into a fairly large fenced-in area that I'd hesitate to call an avli, because it's kind of a cross between a courtyard and a farmyard. There is a spacious gravelled area, in the middle of which is a very large tree. The tree is so large in fact that you can park a pickup and a car under it and there is still room for a rickety old table, a couple of plastic crates of garden produce and three or four mismatched chairs in various states of disrepair, although all just about still strong enough for one to sit on without worrying (well, without worrying too much) about it collapsing and depositing you on the floor in a heap. There's also a length of hosepipe permanently parked near the tree's rather substantial trunk as well.

As we arrived at the gate we were pleased to see our friend's immaculately preserved old pickup parked under the shade of the tree. To its left we could see the hunched figure of the old Greek as he busied himself doing something with some freshly picked vegetables. From our vantage point at the car window it wasn't as yet possible to make out any more details than that. Gilma is 76 years old and his hearing is usually pretty good. But it seemed that he hadn't registered our arrival, so we got out of the car and called a "Yassou fil'e mas" to him.

After a longer pause than we'd have usually expected, he turned his head from the job which held his rapt attention and registered our presence. As per usual he broke into a wide grin, threw both arms out in a gesture of welcome and rose to come and open the gate. I can never leave the car in the lane outside, he always insists that I bring it into the yard. So without arguing, once he'd drawn the gate back far enough, I reversed the car into the yard, whereupon he made it very clear that I should carry on reversing until the car was well shaded by the tree, alongside his pickup. Can't say this wasn't a welcome idea. If there's one thing I hate at this time of the year it's getting back into the car after its been left out in the sun for any length of time, like five minutes or more.

Hastily dusting off a couple of the old chairs so that my wife and I could be seated, he told us to hang on while he nipped inside his modest little one-storey cottage and returned with a chilled bottle of water and two glasses. Cracking the top and undoing it he poured us both a glass from the condensation-covered bottle and placed them on an upturned crate for us. He also opened a box of something that at first I thought may be something like Turkish delight, but was in fact something much nicer. It contained sugar-dusted cubes of compressed, dried figs, which kind of resembled Oxo cubes in size and colour, but there the resemblance ended. At his invitation we both popped one into our mouths and I was instantly fearful for my fillings. Viscous or what! Attempting to chew it my jaw encountered a much stronger than anticipated resistance as my teeth made brave attempts to masticate the cube. tell you what though, it was worth persevering. After I'd got it to finally begin to emulsify with my oral juices it was delicious and naturally sweet from the flavour in the fig. In fact, by the time we'd begun a conversation I was on my third. Hang the risk to the fillings, these babies were more-ish!

   "So, old friend, how goes it?" I asked him. 
   "Aach, Yianni mou. OK now, but last week not so good."
   "What do you mean, what happened?"
   "I was home in Kritika when my left ear started making a strange sound, it didn't hurt, but my hearing almost went completely and I felt like a timpani drum was playing in it. After it hadn't cleared up for a couple of hours I thought it best to go to the hospital."

Of course, we both immediately thought of the dreaded tinitus, but, as his story developed, it appears that he just had a dense build-up of earwax that needed clearing ...in the operating theatre! He was kept in for a few days, during which they shoved all sorts of stuff into his ear. In fact he said there was still a small tube in it which the surgeon was going to remove on his next visit. But there was no pain and the noise was gone now, just a hearing loss which he'd been assured would be only temporary. In a couple of weeks he'd be back to normal. But the tale explained why he'd not heard us when we'd first arrived at his gate.

Of course, this story sparked off a further discussion about health in general. He was well pleased with the fact that, since he was in the hospital, they'd given him a bit of a general medical and declared him in excellent shape. His heart too is apparently as strong as an ox. My wife remarked that this most likely had something to do wth his lifestyle, which he readily agreed with. Lack of stress from spending his days complying with the rhythm of nature had to be a factor in his wellbeing we all agreed.

   "Not like the young folk of today, eh?" He remarked. "You know, Yianni and Maria, there is an unprecedented rise in eye problems nowadays, the doctor in the hospital told me. You know why, don't you? Everywhere you go you see people staring at little screens on all those gadgets they carry. You know what? I must be the only person on Rhodes who doesn't have a mobile phone. Hate the things. We survived for thousands of years without them. Not that a lot of people today would believe that."
  
The conversation inevitably came around to the fact that this was the first day of at least a week when the Greek banks would be closed for business. What was his take on that, we asked?

   "What are banks for?" He asked, apparently rhetorically. "I'll tell you. They're somewhere you can put your money that's generally more safe than shoving it under your mattress, right? Where's the sense in all these people, all of them panicking and creating a problem that wouldn't otherwise have arisen anyway, where's the sense in taking your cash out from where it's relatively safe so that you can shove it under your bed and have it stolen from you?"

He had a point. OK, so crime on Rhodes isn't all that high, but since the austerity kicked in five or six years ago there has been a rise in villa break-ins. Plus in the two major cities it's become all too often that you turn on the news to hear of an old couple or single pensioner being beaten about by thugs who'd broken in to steal the cash. Such things were unheard of ten years ago in Greece. Things are changing and they're changing for the worse.

   "I'd much rather leave my money where they can't touch it, wouldn't you?" Gilma asked us. OK, so one could argue that the banks aren't as secure as they used to be, but they would still be in a lot better shape if the general public weren't so of the "every man for himself in a crisis" persuasion.  Ah well, we always love to hear the way he reasons. Not always the most sound argument, but always interesting.

Mind you, he'll never starve. We've never visited him when he hasn't been busy with some produce or other from his fields. Today was no exception. When we'd arrived he'd been busy sorting out a huge crate of beans. He was just tearing the pods from the vines and chucking them into a plastic crate between his legs. He was doing it at a very leisurely pace of course, as he does everything life.

As our visit drew to a close he insisted that we take a huge bag of beans with us. Scooping almost the entire contents of the crate out with his hands, he filled the carrier bag amidst vain protests from us that this was far too many, surely he needed more for himself, and thrust it into Maria's hand, whilst simultaneously patting her on the shoulder with his other.

The beans were a variety that I'd never seen before. the runner bean-sized pods where predominantly white and the beans inside resembled birds' eggs, since they too were mainly white with speckles of red all over them. Once we'd come home and made sure that Wimbledon was on the TV for the remainder of the day, I set about shelling the beans on the coffee table...


Once they were all shelled (and not a few had found their way into my tummy in the process) the better half used them to rustle up a wicked Briam, which lasted us several days. OK, so that many beans can tend to have an after affect that's not so good in company, but since it's Wimbledon fortnight, we probably won't be keeping much of that for a while yet.

At least, not until the effect has worn off.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

All at Sea - 4

What no one had realised (and why would they have really?) was that whilst we'd been stuffing our faces and a few guests rather rashly been having a swim on a full stomach afterwards, due to the gentle motion of the boat as it responded to the breeze, the anchor had managed to get itself lodged between two rather large boulders on the sea bed about five or six metres down. For several minutes after Captain __________ had stopped the winch motor from burning out, we'd all been busy poking our heads over the side near the bow trying to see why the anchor had preferred to pull the bow down below rather than be lifted to the surface in the normal fashion.

Since posting part 3, I found these two photos. Both are of the right boat this time, but on a different excursion (happier times!). The eagled eyed will be able to spot in both of these photos the winchgear for the anchor chain that, by slipping, saved us from a one-way visit to Davey Jones' Locker.

It's all right, they're not dead. Least I think so. That's Feraklos Castle in the background by the way.
In fact, if the chain hadn't slipped on its winch the bow could well have gone under and we'd all have been shipwrecked me hearties. What a way to conclude what was supposed to be a leisurely chill-out cruise along the Aegean coastline of a Greek island, eh?

Once the crew of two had gazed for long enough, along with the 25 or so hapless holidaymakers and me, over the side to see if they could ascertain what the problem was, it was time once again for Superman to put in an appearance. 

No, not Sacha Distillery, but Hass the invincible. Dashing back to the wheelhouse in his, what I have to say were for me rather too brief swimming trunks, he disappeared inside in a trice. He tended to wear those bathers that were a little too thong-like at the back, you know the ones I mean? I always get put right off my tzatziki when I see a bloke in those from the rear. I always had the impression from Hass that he rather fancied himself as being irresistable to the ladies. I believe, though, that I've intimated before about my surprise at the job (yup, he'd certainly been on the job) that he'd done many years ago back in Berlin, owing to my opinion that he looked rather too, well, knotty is the word that comes to mind, to be a hunk for the women. His cheeks (the facial ones that is) had quite a deep cleft in the middle of each one and he always sported a five o'clock shadow that nowadays was flecked with grey. He looked distinctly to me like a bloke who'd smoked too many ciggies in his younger years and thus looked older than he was. 

Tell you what though - and I had to give him this - he had a pretty good set of lungs on him nevertheless. He could free dive without a tank for rather longer that I'd have expected, just long enough, in fact, to have me worried that we'd next be dealing with a body after all the other disasters we'd encountered on this "carry on up the coast" adventure. As if to emphasise his prowess as a diver though, he'd never go over the side (even in high summer) without first donning a full-body wetsuit. I think he wanted to make it clear to all observers that he was "yer man. Hass knows what he's doing folks, rest easy." Something like that anyway.

So, a few minutes after having nipped into the phone box, sorry, wheel house, he emerged in his wetsuit, made his way with the occasional "OK, coming through," among the guests who were mostly still gazing over the side into the depths below, and leapt from the bow into the briney. Down he went while we all gazed expectantly. I wonder slightly whether he stayed down a little longer than he thought we'd expect him to, in order to add to the effect. After all, we always had on board the occasional single female who might just be game for a Belgio-Grecian exotic adventure. What better way to impress her?

After we'd all decided that it was time to report a death to the coastguard, his head popped up above the surface, vertically above the spot where the anchor lay fifteen feet below and exclaimed, "OK!! OK!! I found the problem! It will take a few minutes!" Whereupon he waved and disappeared below again. After several appearances at the surface to gasp audibly (in fact as audibly as he could - for effect, I reckon) for breath, he finally swam back to the ladder and climbed aboard. The anchor, it seemed, had (as I mentioned at the outset above) got itself lodged between a couple of boulders, but trusty seaman Hass had now freed it at great personal risk to himself and Captain ____________ was now at liberty to switch on the winch again, this time with the assurance that the anchor would be duly "weighed" and we'd be off. When the winch started up there wasn't a passenger aboard who didn't gasp in anticipation, but thankfully it began winding in the chain and the anchor was on its way up. Phew. At least the motor hadn't actually burnt out either.

Of course, by now we'd all had just about enough and wanted to go home. I chatted with a few of the guests and, owing to the fact that the clouds had once again begun gathering and the breeze was getting just a little too keen, they all suggested we return post haste to St. Paul's Bay. 

"OK," I told them, "I'll call our coach driver and tell him that we'll be getting in a little early." Normally we'd get back to the bay at around 4.30pm, but heading straight back from here we'd expect to be there at somewhere nearer 3.00pm. I grabbed my mobile phone and called Stergos our driver. 

   "Hello Stergo, John." I said.
  "John? Which John?" came the reply. I love that kind of humour, don't you? Not. At least not at moments like these.
  "Stergo, it's..."
  "I know, Gianni!! What's happening?"
  "Well, there's been a slight change of plan and we are going to be getting back earlier than expected."
   "What time is 'earlier than expected?'"  He asked. I told him.
  "Ah." came the reply. A rather shorter reply than I'd been hoping for. Not the words I'd wanted to hear either, or rather word.
  "Well, I can get there earlier than planned, sure. But right now I'm still on the way back from the airport with a busload of Scandinavians."
  "Which means what exactly, in terms of what time you can get there?"
  "What time did you say you were now going to get in?" Around 3.00pm I told him again.

  "Well, I can make it for about 4.15, no earlier. How's that?"

What would you have said at this juncture? I mean, let's be honest, it wasn't Stergo's fault that we were all cheesed off and wanting to go home early. All I could do was thank him and ask that if there was any way he could make it before then we'd be grateful.

So it was that at around ten past three we were finally entering St. Pauls' Bay, most of the guests on deck with towels wrapped aorund their shoulders against the mid-May chill and not a happy smile in sight, when the final insult happened. The engine let out a far from normal groan, the whole vessel shook as if it were experiencing an earthquake and then silence. What could possibly have gone wrong this time? At least the momentum of our 8 to 10 knots carried us further into the bay without the benefit of the screw turning from below and thus the crew were able to drop the anchor. A little further from the quay at the far end than normal, granted, but nothing that the damaged but still servicable launch couldn't handle, hopefully.

Of course Hass almost relished the opportunity to don his wetsuit yet again and soon he was climbing back aboard with the spiffing news for our captain that a nylon fishing net from one of the small fishing boats had been left in the water near the bay entrance and it had only gone and wrapped itself around the screw, this time so efficiently that it had broken the drive shaft from the engine. Huge Euro signs no doubt flashing before his eyes I was well impressed that Captain __________ didn't simply throw himself over the side in the vain hope that just once there may be a shark handy that would help him end it all. Judging by the kind of day we'd just had, I wouldn't have been surprised. He was going to be in a no-earnings situation for a week or so now at least.

We were ferried ashore in groups by a disconsolate captain, who I have to say I was by now seriously feeling very sorry for. I knew what was going to happen. The Office would say "How could this kind of thing happen? He couldn't have maintained his boat properly or all this wouldn't have happened and he put our guests at risk. The name of our company has been besmirched, therefore we'll have to terminate his contract for this season without delay." And this is what happened. He didn't really have much chance to explain all the things that had gone wrong, he was simply called by phone and told, "thank you and good night". Plus of course, he wasn't going to get paid anything for the day's endeavours either.

Back on dry land on the rather pleasant beach by the quay at the South end of the bay my guests decided that, since they had about an hour to kill before the coach arrived and, low and behold, the sun was once again out and creating a sharp rise in the temperature, they were going to drop their bags and towels and go for a swim. You can imagine the fun I had gathering them all up once our coach finally put in an appearance at around 4.00pm.

Next morning I decided that it would be good to send a detailed report by e-mail to the office. Somehow I just knew that there were going to be complaints from the guests and so I thought it wise to offer a full and truthful explanation of the day's events. An hour after I'd hit the "send" button, the phone rang. I picked it up. It was the girl from the office who deals with all this stuff.


  "John, we've had some complaints about yesterday's cruise."
  "NO! Never! You DON'T say." I was tempted to reply. What I actually said was, "As expected."
  "Well, one British guest in particular has written a long report detailing all the disasters, stating that he and his two lady friends were traumatised and had feared for their lives on at least two occasions and even adding, and I'll read you what he's written: 'To top it all, the guide even threw up over the side. Hardly what you'd expect from the person you're relying on to help you through the whole sorry episode.' Is that true John, were you sick over the side?"
  "Damn right I was. But I note he didn't bother to mention that I'd explained the reason why to the guests. I was that full of diesel fumes I could have spat it out in droplets. The crew may be used to working in such an environment, but I'm not. I'd say that in the circumstances it was not an unexpected result from what I'd just spent a couple of hours breathing in."
  "Do you agree that lives were put at risk?"
  "Not one jot. Look, if he's asking for his money back I'd say he's entitled to it. Fair's fair, but if he's trying to squeeze some kind of cash sum in compensation by trying to build an exaggerrated case then I'd tell him to take a running jump. Do you know how 'nice' and understanding he was to my face all day? The man's trying it on. To be honest, hearing that he's written that makes me livid. If he'd kept it to the essentials I'd agree entirely that anyone on that cruise was of course entitled to a refund if they so wished."
  "OK, well, your report is pretty thorough. We've kicked the boat out any way. We won't be using it again."

At this point I did suggest we give the poor guy another chance, but the decision wasn't mine to make. I should add at this juncture, that now, several years later, the boat in question is still taking guests on perfectly enjoyable bay-to-bay excursions, In fact this past winter she had a major refit and I get to see her every week because she and her Captain, with whom I'm still on very good terms I'm glad to say, set out from St. Paul's Bay every week at about the same time as I do on a different boat. I think the refit is superb and, even though I like the boat we're using this year, I have to admit to still thinking the one on which we've experienced the excursion from hell is a very pretty vessel and probably my favourite in the "traditional look" department.

  
Oh, by the way, we'd had about 25 guests on board for our mishap cruise of the decade, of which the majority were French. I only had a handful of Brits, and the biggest and most scathing complaint had come from Mr. Smarm, who'd been so nice to me all day long. 

Know something? Not one of the French guests registered a complaint. They'd had the experience to top all holiday experiences and they knew that they had enough dinner party banter to last them for several years.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

All at Sea - 3

Well, after a series of dives using his lungs only, Hass finally managed to free the launch's rope from the screw, the Captain started the engine (and it actually went! Good old Sacha Distillery) and we were under way. Both crew members briefly boarded the launch to inspect the damage, decided that she was still seaworthy and, a mere two and a half hours late, we were once again chugging along at a stately 8 knots. 



Of course, by now our schedule for the day was completely out the window, but the Captain told me to announce that if we just cut out one of the scheduled swim-stops, we could still make it a nice day out and get back to Lindos for the designated hour when, if all went according to plan, there would be a coach waiting for us. Of course, my faith in anything about this day going to plan now was considerably weakened. As things turned out, I was right to be dubious. At least he acquiesced when I suggested we supply the guests with a free drink of their choice from the "bar", which consisted of an ice box which used to be a chest freezer in a former life, by the look of it. On boats the size and shape of this one, you have to strike a compromise. Mind you, he only agreed to this whilst registering a look of acute financial pain all over his face at the prospect.

Having skipped one scheduled bay and proceeded immediately to the location where we were going to be serving up lunch, we found ourselves dropping anchor just off Red Sand Bay at around 1.30pm. Would the lunch go according to plan? Surprisingly, it did. On this particular outing we used to have hot food supplied by a caterer, who would load a few thermal cases about two feet square aboard, which would open to reveal a racked series of "tapsia" [Greek open stainless steel baking trays] all crammed with various foodstuffs like moussaka, oven-baked potates, stifado, and a macaroni dish. There would be one case which was cool and this one would carry two or three delicious trays of salad, plus a supply of bread rolls. Got to say at this juncture, I've worked a few boats that have used this particular catering company and every time the lunch has been a great success with the guests aboard. 


This photo, and the one below, were taken on a much larger boat, but they do show the same food from the company that's run by the young lady shown above serving it up. She's called Vaso and she's a star.

On the boat trip we're concerned about with this saga, they didn't supply staff to serve up the food, but rather the crew (if you can call two blokes a crew) did it. The cabin in which the food was served up was far too small for any extra staff to be present. But you can see from these shots how good the food was.
As I mentioned before, quite a few of the guests aboard for the boat trip from hell were French, and even they raved about the lunch. 

While the guests were having a swim, which mercifully was now possible owing to the sun having been out for a while, Captain __________ and Hass struck out the vittles and, once they were ready, everyone was called to parade in an orderly fashion through the tiny wheel house to be served their lunch. By the time everyone was sat around chomping and sipping from ice cool cans it really did look as though this day had been salvaged. After all, I couldn't imagine what else could possibly go wrong now.

Having worked on bay-to-bay swim cruises for around eight years now, I consider myself well adapted to the pitches and rolls of a modestly sized vessel. I'm familiar with a lot of the equipment that the crew use as they go about their work of operating the vessel. What I don't know though, is what a lot of the contraptions that they use are called. Even if I might take a stab at it in English, I'd be hopeless and remembering what they call these gizmos in Greek. Take the oojamaflip that they use to raise and lower the anchor, for example...



Now, let me make it clear right at this juncture that the above photo was taken on an entirely different and much larger (not to say more modern and thus not so pretty) vessel. But I've stuck it in here so you can see the kind of mechanism that I'm about to describe. I suppose on really old ships they might have been called capstans, but then a capstan usually was horizontal and a few sailors would insert wooden shafts into holes around the perimeter and then walk around it in order to unwind or rewind the anchor chain. I'm sure you know about all that stuff. On most of the boats that I've worked on the anchor chain is lowered by machinery like that shown above, that is the assembly shown above just to the left of the girl taking the photograph. It's usually operated by an electric motor and controlled from the wheelhouse by a crewmember while someone else stands near the machine to watch as it lowers or lifts the anchor.

Right, now you've got that I'll proceed to the next of the day's mishaps. Once the lunch had been devoured and the French guests had all asked for red wine during the meal and a coffee to succeed it, while Mr. Smarm the Brit had of course stuck with yet more cans of lager, the crew, aided by myself, gathered up the plastic glasses and cutlery, the paper plates and leftovers from all around the deck and did a general tidy-up. At least at this point in the day most folk just want to find as large a space on deck as they can to smooth out their towel, slap on a bit more cream, get out their MP3 player, Kindle or paperback, adjust their sunglasses and get down to the serious business of chilling out while the crystal clear Aegean laps at the hull a few feet below them, glistening and twinkling like precious jewels in the bright sunlight.

Even the sound of the anchor being "weighed" as the chain clanks around that vertical metal wheel can be soporific as one acknowledges it as a harbinger of the fact that we'll soon be gliding lazily over the waves once more, perhaps watching for dolphins off the ship's bow. With nothing else to do but apply the art of indolence, moments like this can be defining of a really good holiday.

They can be, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they will

Having decided that it was time to weigh anchor and chug off to our final swim-stop before heading back to Lindos, Captain _________  repaired to the wheelhouse to flip the switch that operates the assembly that raises the anchor and Hass trotted off to the bow (stepping attentatively over various almost naked female bodies in the process. I'm sure I saw him dribbling) to watch the operation proceed. His job it was to raise his hand when the anchor had cleared ths surface and was hanging just below the hull, with its top section lodged into the steel runner that was fitted into the hole in the hull that's designed as a "garage" for the anchor while the ship's moving.

Now, if this operation goes to plan, the anchor chain will clank and grind, as the cogged wheel turns and the recovered chain is winched into its "parking" area below the foredeck. If it doesn't? Well, how about the whole boat begins to dip and rise rather violently at the bow as the chain decides to slip on its gear and emit awful grinding and squeeling noises, all the while sending out puffs of smoke into the air around the machinery, born of the fact that the metal's getting extremely hot and there isn't much lubricant in sight. Hass knows all about lubricant I shouldn't wonder, eh? You know, nudge nudge.

Anyway, it seemed that the machinery for raising the anchor had decided that the anchor was far too heavy and it didn't want the job of raising it. As a result, the ship's bow was making robust attempts to join the anchor at the bottom, twenty feet below, thus throwing the earnest sunbathers on the foredeck hither and thither in a mass of flailing arms and flying Kindles. It took the Captain a seemingly endless minute or so to realise that the anchor chain wasn't in fact being reeled in, but was rather complaining vociferously as it slipped its cogs on the capstan wheel. To the strong smell of electrical short-circuiting and the desperate cries of Hass to stop it, the Captain eventually threw the switch to stop the motor and emerged from the wheel house looking decided cheesed off.

Ah, right. There we are then. Some people say that things happen in threes. They were yet to be proven wrong on this occasion. So far we'd had a broken down engine, a launch that was almost smashed to a pulp against the ship's hull, and now an anchor chain that refused to be reeled in. 

What else could possibly go wrong after this? Always assuming that the crew could sort this one out and actually get us moving before it got dark. You'll just have to wait for the next episode to find out!

Monday, 15 June 2015

All At Sea - 2

Fortunately, the rain didn't come to much. Once it has peppered the deck with tiny shiny dots it decided to call the whole thing off and not proceed to join them together. There were palpable sighs of relief all round. 

Whilst I attempted to explain to the guests that, as an escort who's done this excursion many times, I wasn't in the habit of throwing up over the side, but that I was overcome by diesel fumes, I found it a bit alarming that my British guest (the one with his two lady friends) gave me one of those "Oh yeah, pull the other one" looks as he cracked another beer can. I admit to the fact that I began to take a dislike to him. While I locked eyes with him Smarmy was a word not far from my thoughts, which also included various phrases that I'd like to have been able to say to him but was restrained by the responsibility that my position thrust upon me from doing so. "Git" would have been another word that may have tagged on to the end of "smarmy" if I'm being honest, which I always am, to be honest.

I struck up a chat with my group of French guests, one of whom, a forty-something bloke who looked a bit like Sacha Distilled or whatever, told me that, for his crust, he was in fact a Mercedes diesel fitter back in France.

"Would you like me to go below and see what I can do about ze problem?" he asked in that sexy voice that so many French men seem to be able to produce with no effort whatsoever.

"Can't do any harm," I replied, thinking that desperate times call for desperate measures, we'd been stranded there for so long now. Anyway, this wasn't really a desperate measure, it was more likely an inspired one when you think about it. In no time at all he'd sprinted back to the cabin dressed only in his chic speedos and Ray-Bans and disappeared inside. I'd say that not three minutes had passed before the engine spluttered to life and began gently throbbing below the deck, purring like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. My French friend, nay, by this time undisputed favourite hero, emerged triumphant, shaking his joined fists first left and then right of his head. The entire party of guests on deck erupted into applause and - as if to add to the general euphoria of the moment - the sun emerged from behind the cloud and all of a sudden it felt hot. This was more like it. Surely from now on things would be fine. The day was saved.

Oops. 

He trotted up to me and I asked him what he'd done. Now, I don't pretend to be an expert in such matters, but the essence of his reply was something like this:

"Ah, yes, well, I know theess engine, it's a type seventeen 1957 twin sprocket whipshaft overhead crank flippetygibbet forward thrust marine model. Ze one with ze depressed cam overhead shibelly belt. Quite rare these days, but I know what can happen with zeess model. There eez a split pin on the thrust action lever that can come out sometimes. Eef it does then nothing you do weel start ze bastard. Ze captain didn't notice that theess pin was missing. I took one look and saw it was not where it should have been and so I poot my fingairs through the pools of diesel fuel on the floor and, sure enough, I found eet! All I had to do was to replace it in the lever and - voila!! She goes!!"

I may have some of the fine details slightly wrong there.

I have to confess that this technical explanation didn't inspire in me a great deal of confidence in either our captain, the boat's owner of many years, or his first mate Hass, the Belgian who for the rest of the time I worked with him couldn't restrain himself from telling me how in his previous career he used to have sex behind glass in a seedy Berlin club, where people would pay to watch him. No matter how much disinterest I exhibited, he couldn't hold back from telling me all the sordid details about how tired he'd be after an eight hour shift. Looking at him I found it hard to imagine how the women he reputedly "worked" with could have fancied the idea, but then, it takes all sorts eh? And how on earth did he go from that to working on an old Greek boat doing coastal cruises up and down the coast of Rhodes?

No sooner had the engine started up and begun sweetly ticking over than another crisis hit us. Yes the sun had come out, yes the temperature had risen by quite a few degrees, yes the prospect of a pleasant day cruising along the Aegean coast loomed enticingly before us. But you probably noticed the "oops" above, right? Right.

Within a minute or two of the engine bursting into life and the French diesel fitter emerging back on deck, there was a huge (and I mean HUGE) thumping sound coming from somewhere near the stern. It sounded to me like someone had taken a lump hammer to the wooden hull in an attempt to scupper the old lady with all hands and passengers. What the hell was happening NOW?

I f you've ever been on a boat like this in the Med then you'll be aware that most of them tow a launch along behind them on a rope. This is used to ferry the passengers from shore to ship and back again at the end of the day. It's also the way that the crew get ashore once they've anchored the boat in a safe, protected harbour or bay for the night. They drop anchor, secure the ship, slip overboard into the launch and head for the shore. Standard practice in these parts.

Well, see, the thing is, while we'd been languishing without power for over two hours for what ought to have been a half-hour swim-stop, the launch had drifted toward the mother-ship and tucked itself up under the stern, its connecting rope having dropped into the water, become saturated and sunk for most of its length. It had sunk in fact, very, very near to the ship's propeller, or, to give it its correct name, screw. Once the engine was up and running again, the Captain, in his newfound euphoria, had ascended to the wheelhouse and engaged the gears to get the screw turning. The screw had immediatedly pulled the launch's line into its blades and the launch was doing it's damndest to thrust its nose into the water right under our stern, with the bow hammering against the ship's hull, all the while throwing out great shards of fibreglass and carving great gouges out of the newly-painted blue hull of the ship.

How that launch didn't break up or at least simply sink before the crew realised what was happening and stopped the screw from turning is a mystery to me, but fortunately, for all of our sakes, they did. The launch had sustained major damage to its top edge near the front (sorry - bow), you know, where there are a couple of steel gunwhales (or ought that to be rollocks?), one of which had now been consigned to the deep. Now we faced a further delay whilst Hass the stud went overboard in his wetsuit to free-dive to the screw and untangle the several meters of rope that had now become twisted around it - tightly.

I was just beginning to think that to have got out of bed that particular morning may just have been the wrong choice. I had no inkling, in fact no one aboard did, of what else was to come. 

Part three will arrive soon.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

All At Sea


When things go wrong, how often we say "well, it could be worse." That's supposed to make us feel better, right? Well a couple of years ago I was on a Bay-to-Bay excursion when things did get decidedly worse, then worse still. I decided not to write about it at the time out of sympathy for the boat owner, not wishing to further lower his reputation and possibly scupper his chances of making a living that season.

Time is a great healer though, eh? Or ought that to be "leveller", or perhaps it just "puts stuff into perspective"? Whatever, it's time I told the tale, 'cos if it wasn't so cringeworthy it would have been funny. Not very, though; least not for me or the guests.

The seagoing excursions often start quite late while the company and the boats wait for the sea to settle for the summer. They can start as early as mid-May, but more usually, as is the case in 2015, not until the first week of June. On the occasion in question, we started in the third week of May as it seemed that the sea and the weather were settling early enough and so I got the call and off we went one bright, though not entirely sunny morning. The weather forecast had given some cloud and the chance of a shower, which didn't make me feel entirely comfortable about doing an excursion with a couple of dozen guests on a small boat. This excursion needs wall to wall sunshine, a flat sea and roasting temperatures. You want the guests to be chaffing at the bit to plunge into the clear turquoise waters when the boat drops anchor for a "swim-stop". You want the guests dragging their hands over the side while they chill out seriously while the boat lazily chugs along at about 8 to 10 knots.

The boat we were using that season was a beauty to look at. Lovely blue hull and blue and white superstructure, a long bowsprit with that heavy netting hanging below that you could crawl into and laze in like a hammock while the shimmering Aegean drifts by just feet below you and breaks into a white foam around the bow. 



She was built in the 1950's and had been used to carry cargo between the islands for several decades before being converted for excursions. She looked the archetypal wooden Greek fishing vessel (even though she wasn't) with two wooden masts, the taller of which reaches so high into the deep blue sky that it seems to scrape long the heavens above you while you flow lazily across the waves. Remember that boat that Tom Conti took Pauling Collins for a ride on (quite literally it seemed) in "Shirley Valentine"? You've got it, that type of craft.

She was just large enough to take make 30 or more sun-loving holidaymakers very happy as they stretched out their towels on the roof of the cabin in front of the wheelhouse and got down to the serious business of lazing around. She had that lovely curved shape along the side, dropping in a gentle curve from her bow and rising likewise toward the stern, where she still sported the original wooden rudder, complete with that large wooden handle (tiller?) that the original crew would have to keep fast hold of to set her direction as she made headway from island to island. Nowadays she's steered from a wooden wheel inside the wheelhouse, but even that looks great as it's fashioned to look like the type of wheel that Blackbeard would have stood behind a few centuries ago.

We hadn't gone far, halfway along Kalathos bay and heading north, when the clouds covered the sun and all the guests sat up and draped cardies around their shoulders. It was the third week of May and instantly it felt cool. The crew of two, consisting of the ship's Canadian-Greek owner and his wiry Belgian right-hand man, decided to drop anchor just yards from the pebbly shore a few hundred yards north of the Atrium Palace hotel. Time for our first swim-stop, only no one felt like diving in. Instead everyone sat around staring at the cloud that covered the sun and the sea almost immediately took on a swell that it didn't seem to have had minutes before.

The guests were mainly French, although I did have a handful of British on board too. Among these was a fifty-something man with dyed hair accompanied by two lady friends, probably ditto in the hair department. They were nice enough and we'd struck up a fairly interesting conversation while we'd covered the distance from St. Paul's Bay in Lindos to where we were now. The cloud that covered the sun seemed to deliberately do its darndest to stay there as the air temperature felt to the skin like it had dropped 10 degrees. Hmmm, not ideal for a sunshine cruise.

Weather notwithstanding, the captain decided to drop anchor, since it was his scheduled location to do so, for the first swim of the day and so his first mate Hass, scuttled forward to the anchor mechanism on the deck near the bow to assist as the anchor was dropped. After the heavy steel gear around which the anchor chain would grind began to rotate as it rattled and clanked whilst the anchor was lowered, I looked skyward, willing that wretched cloud to clear off. I mean how annoying is it, when the sky is predominantly blue, yet you have a great big grey cloud just obscuring the sun and looking like it doesn't want to move on.

A couple of the guests did decide to risk it, threw off their shorts and plunged in. This, however, didn't start the mass exodus over the side that it usually does at a swim-stop. The others, not even attempting to remove any clothes, reached for their cans of beer and watched the swimmers in bemused fashion, no doubt wishing that their beer was a hot cocoa. The swimmers put on a brave face and waved as they tried to look as though they were actually enjoying themselves when the fact was that, with the sea at this temperature, it's only a pleasant experience to be up to your neck in it when the sun's beating down and the air temperature's in the upper twenties.

Most swim-stops are about half an hour to forty-five minutes and then the ship sounds her horn, the swimmers climb the ladder back aboard, the engine's fired into life and the anchor weighed ready for the next leg of the voyage. After we'd been at this particular location for almost an hour, I started smelling a rat. I became aware that I hadn't seen a glimpse of either of the crew for a quarter or an hour or more and it was well time we were under way. At least making headway would give the guests a little more cheer than sitting around on deck shivering and wishing they were somewhere else, somewhere where there's a lot less water around them. I broke off from my conversation with the three British guests and went back to the wheel house. Once inside I had to descend the almost vertical ladder of about 5 steps to the engine rom in the bowels of the craft.

As I poked my head into the engine room all I was confronted with was the two sweaty backs of the crew as they tinkered with the engine, all the while picking up spanners, attempted a twink here and a tweak there, and putting them down again in a pool of diesel fuel. Upstairs it may have been cool, but down here it was a cauldron and their t-shirts clung to their backs, drenched in sweat and looking like they were taking part in a cross between spot the ugly bloke and the wet t-shirt competition.

"OK are we chaps?" I meekly enquired. "We about to move off then? I mean, the guests are a little restless up there as it's still cloudy and not all that warm." I attempted a hopeful smile, but there was an air of foreboding about this scene.

From over the captain's shoulder came the words "No problem. We'll be off in a minute." He didn't even turn his head in my direction as he said this and the way they moved their heads conspiratorially closer together told me that all was not well, not well at all.

"What do I tell the guests?" I asked.

"Give us a mo', all right?" Came the terse reply.

Now, the atmosphere down there was so heavy with diesel fuel vapour that you could almost see it. It slithered into my nose and caught in my throat, sufficiently to persuade me to go above again to at least get some fresh air. As I ascended the ladder I felt quite nauseous and my face was probably turning green.

Let's get this straight right? I am good on boats. There was a time in the past when a smallish vessel tossing around on two or three foot waves would have me holding back the vomit, but having lived here for as long as I have and having now spent the time that I have aboard boats of various sizes I can confidently assure one and all that I have my sea legs. I have my sea stomach too. Arriving back on the outdoor deck I was extremely conscious of twenty or more faces all looking expectantly toward me and waiting for me to say "Right then! We're off now." They were hoping for a disarming smile of confidence to go with it too. I was to disappoint them on both counts.

"Looks like there is a small technical blip folks," I proffered, "But the captain assures me that all is well and we'll be under way directly." If they didn't believe this I don't blame them. I didn't either. The time dragged on, we'd been at this stop for an hour and a half when I went below again and was greeted by the same scene. The captain, sensing my presence, muttered in an irritated tone, "This never happens. I don't get it. I spent a fortune having her serviced over the winter. It's got to be  something obvious." Hass assented with a nod.

"Look, _________ (Captain's name used here) I've got to do something for the guests, they're getting fractious up there." I continued. No reply was forthcoming. Now imagine this scene being repeated several times more and you get the picture. A happy bunny I was not. The guests? Well, you can imagine. After two hours I was well impressed with a handful of my French guests though, who'd obviously decided that this still beat being at work and were talking in raucous tones and having a belly laugh. The rest of the guests were most definitely at the point of mutiny.

Another trip down below and I told the captain, "Look, I'm going to open the ice box and dish out some free drinks, as an apology for the delay. Can I at least do that?" Tell the captain that you're going to do something that'll cost him and you get his attention then all right. He straightened up, turned to me and suggested I give each guest a small bottle of water - on the house. Such generosity.

I'd lost count of the number of visits below I'd made, but the diesel had now really got into my system. Walking hurriedly to the side I was just able to hold back my spurt of vomit until I could project it into the sea and not over someone's towel, or worse. Whipping out my handkerchief to wipe my face and mouth, I felt the first spots of rain.

Episode 2 to follow!!