The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This yearís challenge?

29th November to 5th December 2007
1st part of the voyage out Weymouth to Valencia

Breaking the Chains inspired by Lis Croucher

Day 1 Thursday 29th November Weymouth to Grande Anversa, Portbury Dock

We heard the heavy rain during the night. At least one of us slept fitfully before starting out on this adventure and we were pleased that the rain eased with the dawn. Once up we had a schedule to keep to and we were only ten minutes late leaving the house and even this we caught up by the time we reached the station.

The train had just pulled in and Janet was waiting to see us off. The guard, going for his cup of tea, eyed the loaded tandem suspiciously but left us alone to get on with it. The stoker claimed the sole bike hole. It is rather like a coal hole but without the coal, nothing more than one would expect from worst great western. With all the luggage off and the front of the tandem removed it just fitted in. The guard carried out his inspection and his slow brain realised that it was not worth the aggravation to make a fuss and left us alone.

Janet waved us off. It was a pleasant journey through the green fresh rain washed countryside to Bristol, and perhaps the fastest we would go the whole trip. After a quick inspection of the platform lifts for tandem fit we soon had the front back on and the luggage in place.

Lis and Bas met us at the barrier to buy us coffee and wish us bon voyage and much appreciated it was too. Due mainly to the stoker being unaware of the distance we had to ride this turned into a leisurely affair. It was pretty well lunch time before we were on our way and Lis and Bas off for Christmas shopping.

Bristol is the most amazingly aggravating place for cyclists. Thanks to Sustrans it has some of the best cycle routes of any city in the UK. But there is also an almost total lack of information about them and few useful signs. Based on previous trips and some rather elderly maps the management had fed a route into the GPS. This got us nicely to Portbury Docks taking us beside the Avon on a riverside path under Brunelís spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge.

I suppose we should not have been surprised when we came to a gate at the end of the cycle path which was completely impassable by tandem. Fortunately we were able to lift it from its hinges. A younger management would then have chucked it into the field in disgust. His more measured response, taking into account the ease with which he got it off, was to put it back on again.

As we approached the police control point at the dock entrance our ship stood high above a sea of cars and other vehicles. Passport checks and phone calls made we wended our way through the giant maze of cars to the loading ramp.

We are of course secondary cargo but soon a friendly Indian crew member had us up the ramp and the tandem secured to a railing. Three more people carried our bags and we were soon installed in our spacious cabin.

It was all rather strange. We are the only passengers and the crew, though friendly, are all busy with their jobs. Dinner is at 18h00 and we were ready for it after an early start and busy day. After dinner we walked around the deck. It was hard to comprehend that the huge angular structure of the ship, towering 30 metres over the dock, would soon be going to sea. We were to bed early with the intention of waking when the Grande Anversa departed.

 Getting ready to board Grande Anversa - note the sky

Day 2 Friday 30th November at sea

We understand that we left on time at 00h15 but neither of us noticed. The management seems to remember some vibrations which may have been the bow thrusters driving us off the dock. Later he did look out of the cabin window and the last he saw was lights on the Welsh coast. We are on the starboard side.

In the past we have both been subject to sea sickness and we had more or less accepted that we had to go through this phase of the trip. It was obviously the thing we were looking forward to least. The management hoped that sailing Hobnob would give him a degree of immunity even though he had not been to sea for two months. Neither of us was sick nor suffered the debilitating symptoms that go with it. We were however careful and kept warm and lay down a lot.

The ship has a routine with early breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are 31 souls on board including us. The crew is split into officers and men. We eat with the officers and have hardly even seen the men. The accommodation block is on the top deck immediately below the bridge which is on the bow of the ship. There are about ten cabins to port and starboard and three or four more across the ship under the bridge. The centre of the accommodation block is taken up with service areas including the galley and messes and a very small recreation area.

The crew are mainly Italian and Indian but there is one Romanian and a junior officer from Malta. The Master and First Mate are Italian. Language on board seems to be a kind of pidgin based on English which does not run beyond the basics of communication. Verbal humour is not understood and can be taken literally with unfortunate effect. It is not unlike being in North America though the vocabulary on board is even more limited.

By morning we were off Landís End with land just visible in the distance and the last we saw of the UK. It was already blowing hard enough to make it difficult and unpleasant to go on deck and we took to our cabin.

After lunch the management went up to the bridge. We are welcome on the bridge but we do have to ask permission. There were three people on duty, two officers and a crew member. The bridge is full of instruments and screens, most of which would be familiar to a modern yachtsman. The ship is steered by either a joy stick or a small wheel smaller than that on a car though she is mainly on auto helm. Her position is fixed by GPS and noted on the chart. She has very sophisticated radar which analyses targets and names the larger ships and their destinations.

By the time the management got onto the bridge we were just approaching the Brest Peninsular and merging with the shipping lanes around it. The wind speed over the deck was showing as 48 knots but the ship was doing 18 knots over the ground into the wind. It was blowing around 30 knots, force 7, and even though it didnít look it from 30 metres up on the bridge the waves were almost three metres high.

We were sailing 180 degrees, i.e. due south, but had to alter course to go behind a fishing boat which had right of way. As the fishermen passed across our bow they were being thrown all over the place by the seas. The Officer of the Watch shrugged. The management was glad to be where he was. The Master had set a course into the Bay of Biscay, it being preferable to heading across the Bay directly into the force seven wind from the southwest. We were pleased but we felt that some of the crew would have preferred the more direct route.

Days 3 and 4 Saturday and Sunday 1st and 2nd December at sea

You could say more of the same but it is not strictly true. It actually felt worse. Soon after breakfast land appeared to port. Good we thought we must be out of the Bay of Biscay. But if that was the case why was the boat still heading west? Furthermore, though it was not so windy the swell had increased to seven metres according to the master. It is hard to believe that such a large ship could be so uncomfortable. Just before dusk we turned south down the Spanish and Portuguese coast and were at last out of the Bay but the ship still rolled. The management in his fore and aft berth was especially thrown around. He even thought that the cosy fit quarter birth on Hobnob would be more comfortable.

We picked up the pilot off Setubal late in the afternoon and were relieved to be on our berth by dinner time.

The Straits of Gibraltar

Day 5 Monday 3rd December Setubal

Being a proper working ship breakfast is satisfyingly early according to the management. We were rolling the tandem down the loading ramp soon after 8am. The stoker cooperated with enthusiasm. Early is not her thing but a run ashore was worth getting up for.

We were given our shore leave passes and were soon off the ship, out of the port area and cycling into Setubal. It was a lovely sunny morning and we had almost forgotten how little traffic there is in Portugal. Through the old town and out onto the westbound coast road we went. The number of vehicles reduced to almost none and the coastal scenery is superb. The road undulates through pine forests greener and lusher than the Mediterranean coast. The deserted beaches are mainly sandy interspersed by rocky cliffs. It is hard to find much better outside of Dorset.

The stoker encouraged the management to find a hill by requesting a circular route back. He is of course capable of finding all available hills without encouragement. On this occasion this involved pedalling (and walking) from sea level to 389 metres. But the views were spectacular.

We just had time for a quick bite to eat in a tiny restaurant before returning to the ship to literally sail into the sunset.

Day 6 Tuesday 4th December at sea

As we turned in for the night it was a bit bumpy again but little separates tired cyclists from their sleep. We woke to a clear bright day and smooth seas. Soon after breakfast we went to the bridge as we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar. It was busy and the whole navigation team were working hard. Even though the ships going into and out of the Med keep to their lanes there are ferries crossing and fishermen to avoid. A fast ferry not unlike Condor ducked under our stern. In large letters on the side it said Tarifa Tangiers 35 minutes. What a small world we live in.

The Moroccan coast line looked very exciting with many cliffs, rounded hills and inlets. The Rock of Gibraltar was less significant than we had expected and all the cliffs on the Spanish side were busy with wind turbines. We even got text messages welcoming us to both Spain and Morocco.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine and, having spent another 36 hours at sea, arrived in Valencia soon after breakfast.

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