Wednesday, 15 August 2012

for those in peril on the sea

Well, Cornwall's changed. The small hilly streets are familiar with the colourfully painted close houses. There was plenty of good food and the weather was remarkably good for that part of the world. There were a lot of Greeks around, though.

Actually, back in the early to mid 1970s I spent many happy days in St Ives with friends. There are a few tales about those holidays at the end of our school days which occasionally get told. Not right now, though.

Mevagissey is a small fishing village as is Vathy on Meganisi. If you look at the two entries in Wikipedia you will notice that they actually look similar. Easy mistake to make - after all they both take about the same time to get to from where we live. Actually, it's quicker to get to Greece.

I thought we might escape the Olympic madness that spread quicker than swine fever throughout the land but it wasn't to be. On "Super Saturday" we sat in the bar of a hotel in Gatwick with nothing else to do but to get caught up in the euphoria. It was pretty impressive. Impressive in the way that the closing ceremony wasn't - spectacular rubbish, really. I enjoyed Ray Davies (not sure about the Ronald McDonald hair though, Ray - or was that to fit in with some of the clowns dancing around you?). Obviously it was all gloriously over the top but good old Ray seemed bemused to be there. I was a little taken aback by the "superstar" version of Wish You Were Here - with local Suffolk boy Ed Sheran. Now, excuse me if I'm mistaken but isn't that a song by Roger Waters about being alienated from other people? Er, doesn't quite fit the bill there methinks.  Oh! Of course, no one listens to the actual words, the title fits so that's all that matters. I gave up before the Who came on.  Well done to the Thin White Dame for refusing to appear in person*.

Meanwhile, back on holiday. Several people were able to access their iPhone's internet; I must admit I couldn't be bothered. I thought it was going to be expensive as I had been told not to log on to the internet whilst I was away. However, I was able to use the phone as we'll see . . .

The last time I was in that area (Lefkada) about ten or eleven years ago we hired a little boat. We spent a good few hours putt-putting along the coast and crossing to some of the little islands that are scattered across the Ionian and even spotted dolphins. So on return to the area and with little else to do on the wonderfully quiet island we hired a boat instead of a car.

We shared the boat with another couple we had met - of whom more at another time. Obviously it meant it was quite cheap to hire the boat for the day as we shared the cost. Illustrated here is the actual boat we hired (honestly, it's better if you click on it).  My good friend Brendan may notice that this one was slightly bigger than the one we shared all those years ago.  This one had a steering wheel as opposed to the basic rudder we had then. This was about 30cc and was designed to cope with the four of us. So we booked the boat through the very accommodating hotelier and went down on the Friday to have a maritime adventure.

I was forced into taking the wheel for the first part of the trip and steered us quite well into the next waterside village. I even managed to moor well without bashing into the jetty. All going well so far. We breakfasted at a little taverna then took a swim and dried off under the Ionian sun. Time to get back in the boat**. Greg our new friend took the second shift. He had an idea that when big waves hit you should "steer into them" which somehow translated into circling round a few times to enjoy the thrill. That happened a few times.

After stopping to swim by throwing the anchor overboard a couple of times (another couple had also hired one of these - "throwing the anchor overboard" took on a different meaning as they saw it disappear under the boat) and found a lovely stony beach to sunbathe on. Feeling peckish we decided to find the next taverna down the coast. Mrs Dave was on captain duty. We pulled up to the jetty well, no problem.  She did mention at one stage that the steering wheel "doesn't seem too responsive at times". But it's an old boat well used by hundreds of holidaymakers over the years. But they do safety checks regularly, of course, don't they?

As we walked in to the garden of the Paradiso taverna down on the east coast of the island, we met the aforementioned anchor-less couple. Instant dinner party in a sort of Greek Garden of Eden. A few swordfish steaks and a couple of Mythos later we thought it was time to head off again. I was back on captain duty by now.  We went down as far as we could but we were told that once you pass the end of Lefkada (on our right) we have to turn back. So we did. We needed to be back by 6:30 and still hadn't got round the other side of the island yet. So we headed back up towards Vathy port where we intended to get around the headland and chug along down to another beach that had been recommended to us.

The sea was getting a bit rougher as we neared the top of the island as all the big ferries and speed boats churn up the sea. Obviously we needed to keep away from getting too close to the shore as it's very rocky.  Mrs Dave told me to get in a little closer to the shore, though, and not sit quite so far out in the sea. All jolly well for her to say that but what she and the others were unaware of was that I had been struggling with the "unresponsive" steering wheel for a while. The more I tried to steer closer to the shore, the more adamant the boat seemed to be to go in a straight line.

As Mrs Dave began to get more agitated that I wasn't keeping closer to the island I had to announce the fact that, "we may have a slight problem here".  By now the steering wheel whizzed around easily either way but absolutely nothing was happening to the outboard motor. Now, as a teacher of some twenty years standing, I have come to realise that should the lesson be observed no form of technology should be used whatsoever.  Be it the laptop, the Interactive Whiteboard or the DVD player, it will go wrong.  At that particular moment (just as panic is setting in) some bright spark will either ask an intelligent question or offer "useful" advice. The question most asked at that time is, "Have you turned it on?" Other than that, whenever I announce such gems as the steering wheel has stopped working, I have noticed a tendency by my nearest and dearest to look at me as though I've told a rather unfunny joke.  A look of disbelief usually follows.  "Try turning it fully round".  Ah! of course, I hadn't been doing that for the last twenty minutes. I immediately turned the wheel both ways all the way round until it wouldn't go any further. Someone suggested that if I turn the engine off and back on it will somehow (magically) "be okay".

It wasn't.

We opened the only panel available to see what was wrong. We did what people tend to do now when their car has broken down.  That is, we looked in, stared, scratched our heads and closed the panel again.  Basically it was an empty space with a few wires in it and a battery.  So Greg jumped over the side to see if anything was wrong.  Like if the pathetic split cane fishing rod he'd bought which broke the first time he tried to use it had caused the float and line had caught up in something (not being too technical for you landlubbers, am I?). No, nothing there either. I did not panic.  I got out my trusty iPhone and, miraculously, it worked.  The man said he'd be out to us in a few minutes. Excellent.

By now, the fact that we were bobbing up and down on the salty sea was causing Mrs Dave to become slightly bilious.  I suddenly realised that fairly soon the car ferry would be about to appear from the mainland port.  It wasn't going to change course for a bunch of tourists who'd parked their little boat in a major shipping lane.

We were rather glad to see the man turn up a few minutes later.  The cable had snapped between the steering wheel and the outboard so it wasn't our fault. Phew.  As he towed us in to the port I spied the car ferry steaming along and passing over the exact space we were in a few minutes earlier. Phew!

After our rather ignominious return to Vathy and we were safely in a taverna drinking a medicinal beer some bright spark suggested that we could have chugged along fine by physically turning the outboard ourselves. A sort of Esprit d'Escalier I guess.

* Despite having a medley of hits being played. However, the discussion on R4's Today this morning with two comedians about how "ropey" the ceremony was suggets that I'm not alone.
** Some of you may be familiar with Apocalypse Now and "never get out of the boat"

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