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.


  1. Phew, pleased to hear all ended ok. X

  2. Clearly Mr Smarm had no sense of adventure! Apart from the poor guy who lost the contract and therefore a not inconsiderable amount of income (I would guess) and the other poor guy (!) who threw up over the side, I thought the tale was hilarious! If I'd been on board, I think the worst aspect of the excursion would have been the fact that it was cold and cloudy for so much of it!