The Dedegol Mountains, Isparta, Turkey. This year’s challenge?

2nd to 16th March 2008
Voyage home Limassol to Weymouth

Our ship arriving in Limassol

Days 95, 96 and 97 Sunday, Monday and Tuesday 2nd, 3rd and 4th March –Limassol, Cyprus to Ashdod, Israel

We left the hotel and went into the Limassol Turkish quarter, what is left of it, for a late lunch. Finding and boarding the Grimaldi cargo ship was easy. Doing it in accordance with Cyprus bureaucracy was more difficult. Having settled into our cabin we were then taken back to the passenger terminal to pass through emigration. The bureaucrats actually called it immigration which could have been a Freudian slip as we entered the building via the way out and then phoned the officials to say we were there to be exited. We were duly entered on a list of two and allowed back onto the ship.

The Grande Ellade sailed soon after we had gone to sleep. The management did see the lights of Limassol recede into the distance. He was woken by a violent rain storm which required our cabin window to be closed. Life at sea and on this ship is very similar to the voyage out, the main difference being the weather. We were able to sit on deck after breakfast in the sunshine until we arrived in Ashdod at lunchtime, very nice but for one thing. As we approached the port we were buzzed by an airplane which circled the ship several times. Fast naval patrol boats were also close by. It gave the impression of entering a war zone.

Israel is among the countries lowest on our list of places to visit. Apart from the dangers involved their human rights record is among the worst in the world. An eye for an eye is bad enough but killing 100 Palestinians in retaliation for the death of one Israeli who should not be there in the first place is inexcusable. So is the danger they pose to all of us in the civilised world by their actions. On the other hand we are here and we decided that we should not forgo the opportunity to see for ourselves what it is like.

We started going through the formalities to enter the country at 1pm. The whole procedure took four hours. We were first questioned by a young woman security officer. Her attitude was apologetic and she and the Master perked up a bit when they listened to the story of our journey. Seems a shame for any young person to stay in this country even if it is propped up by American money and politicians influenced by the Jewish lobby. Let us hope our story does something towards inspiring her to travel a long way away and not come back. An hour later we were asked similar questions by two more women. Apparently our shore pass would be ready in an hour.

By 3pm we began to wonder whether it was worth the bother for a short tandem ride to Ashdod. When our passes had not come by 4pm we gave up and the management went to the ship’s gym for a bit of exercise on the bikes and rowing machine. It would have been easy to take the moral high ground and claim we refused to land. This diary is being written paragraph by paragraph as it happens. Had we been enthusiastic to go ashore we would have gone even in the dark. As it was we were very laid back about the whole affair and pleased that they got none of the little bit of money we might have spent. They have no goodwill to lose. As one of their number may have said we shook their dust from our feet. It would be good if the American and British politicians did the same.

 A gangster?

Days 98, 99 and 100 Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 5th, 6th and 7th March – Ashdod, Israel to Alexandria, Egypt and at sea to southern Italy

We arrived in Alexandria after we had gone to sleep last night. We awoke early and breakfasted so that we could make a day of it in the town. Unlike most ports this one is in the centre. From the vantage point of the ship’s top deck we have an excellent view in every direction. There were buildings of all types, lovely looking ex colonial looking palaces and mosques and the inevitable reflecting glass modern structures. Most were however tumbledown high rises which look in the binoculars too dangerous to live in.

Apart from our steward who served us breakfast the ship was amazingly quiet. When the ship arrives late the crew work through the night unloading cargo. We eventually managed to find Michele, the third officer who looks about fifteen and is responsible for passenger relations. He went off to find the agent to get us a shore pass. A few minutes later he came back to say that landing is not possible at this port……. We reconciled ourselves to sitting on the top deck watching all the goings on.

It was a pleasant sunny day and although disappointed about not going ashore we had plenty to see. Ships here were being unloaded much as they would have been in the UK fifty years ago. Right on our stern several dockers were in the hold of a large coaster sending up bags by crane. Idling away the time we decided to see with the binoculars whether there were any women on the street. Much to our surprise we did eventually see a group of about six, all together and of course all wearing scarves. We saw the most amazing site of a mobile crane, similar to the one we use to launch Hobnob, driving along the main street and into the docks with its jib fully extended. They live dangerously here.

The management decided that he would try independent navigation of the Grande Ellade to Salerno, our next port of call. He programmed half a dozen waypoints into the GPS and calculated his estimated time of arrival at each point. Unlike the crew he was not prepared to stay up all night to see how his navigation progressed. We did however go on deck to watch our departure at about 10pm and see the lights of Alexandria recede into the distance.

We spent Thursday at sea. It was another sunny day and the ship headed north west towards Sicily. We had an easterly wind which was throwing up large white tops even downwind. The management was concerned because we were getting to his waypoints sooner than expected. He went to the very stern of the ship, faced into the wind and estimated he could feel about 10 knots on his face. The ship was doing just under 20 knots so we had a good force 6 blowing us along. It seemed a great shame to the management that we had to run the engines at all. With the wind on the starboard quarter the great flat topsides five storeys high from sea level should give us at least 10 knots and no fuel would be used.

The master decided to keep the crew on their toes by having a bomb scare exercise. Passengers were excluded from playing which was a shame because it would have been fun to search the ship. It only affected us by causing our dinner to be late. We then watched a film before turning in for the night. The master is only about 15 miles off the management’s course. The management puts this down to the master having a bigger computer.

Friday was spent at sea. The ship’s clock went back an hour last night to Italian time and amusingly the clock in our cabin suddenly started running slowly backwards till the new time was reached. We were invited to Frank’s cabin to play Scrabble. Frank is a 75 year old New Yorker doing the whole round voyage of over a month. He lives in the owner’s cabin and rates his ability at Scrabble. The stoker is herself a very able player and together with the management we are a formidable team. That is so long as the management plays before the stoker. Being dyslexic he is very happy if he can put his letters together to make any acceptable words at all. When he manages it he leaves so many openings for the literate stoker that she accumulated a huge number of points.

During the evening we passed between Sicily and the foot of Italy. We watched the pilot come aboard and steer the ship through the narrow straits busy with shipping. It was all the more impressive in the dark of the stormy night with lightning in the background and the lights on Mount Etna high above us.

Days 101, 102 and 103 Saturday, Sunday and Monday 8th, 9th and 10th March Salerno to Savona

We awoke on Saturday anchored off Salerno waiting for a pilot. The management was delighted that his estimated times of arrival at every waypoint along the route from Alexandria had been within 30 minutes of the actual times. Soon after breakfast we were able to go ashore. It poured with rain all day but we walked a long way, needing the exercise after six days onboard. It was fun to be back in the town from which we started cycling three months ago. It is a lovely place which would benefit from another visit in better weather.

We put to sea again well after dark and when we awoke the sea had calmed but it was not warm enough to bask in the sun. We followed the coast some way off and occasionally passed some of the attractive islands which dot the sea hereabouts. Just as we were thinking about lunch George, the second mate, warned us that there would be a safety drill.

When the bell went off we were consigned to the care of Boc the steward. We were slightly handicapped because although we had two lifejackets we only had one hard hat and one immersion suit between us. The stoker volunteered to wear her cycle helmet and, subject to it being large enough, we are still friendly enough to share a survival suit. But as you would expect on such a well run ship the missing items appeared.

We went on deck with the rest of the crew. We had not looked out on the port side for some time but we were met with a wonderful view. Corsica with its long spine of snow covered mountains surprised us even though we had experienced its verticality in 2000. Sardinia off the stern was nice and flat and Elba to starboard steep and rocky. The islands took our minds off the drill in hand.

It seemed that the master had smuggled an inspector of safety procedures onboard. The passengers had come up to standard and were dismissed. The crew then swung out and partially lowered a lifeboat and had great fun shooting water up into the air with the fire hoses. We were very gratified that unlike on the Titanic the lifeboat and the other equipment worked fine. Lunch which followed had something of a party atmosphere about it. A home made lemon liqueur was produced by a member of the crew who had visited home in Salerno. Everybody’s health was drunk and the master seemed pleased with the way the inspection had gone.

It was too late to go ashore at Savona when we arrived on Sunday evening. We decided to have an earlier breakfast than usual and planned a cycle ride for Monday. When we awoke it was raining heavily and at first we changed our plan and settled down for a day onboard. The rain however cleared a little but it was still unsettled so we walked into town.

Savona is a pleasant place with shopping streets and a nice marina full of yachts to admire. We ambled along covered walkways intended to provide shade on a sunny day and in our case shelter from the odd rain drop. It was market day and we dodged the drips and the eye poking umbrellas to wander round the colourful stalls. Because all the panniers are full we have a rule that new things can only be bought if something old is sacrificed. Neither of us spent any money. We returned to the ship, enjoyed our lunch onboard then sailed heading south west at 3pm.

Sunset over Benidorm

Days 104, 105 and 106 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 11th, 12th and 13th March Savona to Setubal

We enjoyed being at sea for three days, particularly a wonderful sunset off Benidorm. On Wednesday afternoon we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar getting fine views of the Rock. Even though the shipping exiting the Mediterranean is on the Rock side we were nowhere near enough to see the monkeys. As we entered the Atlantic the ship began to feel the effect of the waves. Sleeping on Wednesday evening was slightly uncomfortable as the bed tended to feel it was falling away before pushing back up again.

We arrived in Setubal at 10am, later than the management had predicted. The ship had slowed during the night because of the large sea running. We were granted shore leave at 11am and it was a perfect sunny day in a lovely place. We got the tandem out for the first time this voyage and headed through the port area and out of town to the west. We felt pretty rusty but the management had been on the exercise bike in the ship’s gym, boring but necessary, and the stoker had been walking on deck. We did the reverse of the ride we did on the voyage out, climbing the big hill first before coming back to the lovely sandy beaches along the coast. This time spring rather than winter was in the air. We were in shorts and cycling shirts and the spring flowers were out. We returned to the town with an hour to spare. Sitting in the sun drinking large beers we realised that summer really was on the way.

Grande Ellande departed just before dusk. The management stood at our open cabin window taking in the scenery as we slowly passed the town centre and then along beside the coastal hills. It was a very mild evening with that warm perfumed air that comes from warm pine forests in southern climes. As we discharged the pilot onto his launch and the light faded we shut the window with mixed feelings. It was our last port and the adventure almost over. On the other hand we were looking forward to being home.

Days 107, 108 and 109 Friday, Saturday and Sunday 14th, 15th and 16th March Setubal to Weymouth via Portbury

Once we were off the Portuguese coast we again had a big sloppy sea running. It is just the kind of sea that long distance yacht sailors hate. There was little or no wind and the management could almost feel the sails and rigging bashing about. Fortunately the sea was not as large as that near Gibraltar, but the ship still rolled and very occasionally crashed through a wave. Even though we have our sea legs we appreciated being able to sleep most of the first 12 hours at sea.

After lunch on Friday we took a short walk around the deck. The management looked at the sky and was reassured as his sailor’s eye saw no signs of bad weather for our crossing of the Bay of Biscay. He was also pleased that the barometer was 1013mb and rising slowly. We were now about thirty miles off the nearest land, the far western point of the north Spanish coast. Much to our surprise we saw a robin flying amongst the deck cargo cars. It finally flew high into the sky and we lost sight of it. On Saturday we enjoyed the last of the sunshine which, to our surprise, was still warm enough for us to sit on deck chairs reading for most of the day. The ship was rolling a fair bit but it was a gentle crossing of this stormy area.

We docked in Portbury during the night and awoke to a grey wet day. After breakfast we left the ship, saying goodbye and thanks to the MV Grande Ellade, her master Raffaele Maresca, cook Giovanni Carfora and steward Noly Boc Boc. With full waterproofs on we splashed through the puddles on the cycle path to Bristol city centre. The management was concerned that the train journey to Weymouth would be difficult. In theory tandems are not carried. It turned out to be very easy. The train, old stock with space for the tandem, left from platform 1. It was a level walk from the barrier, avoiding the need to use the lift. The train guard was friendly and admired the tandem rather than invoking silly rules. He even helped us off at Weymouth.

We cycled home along the Rodwell Trail, looking forward to the time when the new bridge will be built and we will not have to puff up the embankment. We are delighted to be home after this great winter tour.

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