Tuesday, March 10, 2009

HURRY UP AND WAIT AND WE MAKE IT ACROSS THE CHANNEL


Yep, as of 11th of March we were still hooked up to the big barge at A.C. Marine, Sunbury Lock right in the middle of the River Thames as the super technicians who are a part of this establishment, tidy up some more of the electrics and add an isolation transformer to the boat. This is something that should have been a part of the the boat since its original build to, A/ stop shorts coming from any direct shore power source and B/ to stop erosion of the metal of the boat which can travel not only around this boat but to and from other craft in the vicinity. At the same time a large buzz bar has been added to ensure a full ships earth so this should be a comfort at all times. Unfortunately, it has delayed us getting under way but fingers crossed another few days should see us en route for Calais in France where we will set off on our own.




With time on our hands we decided to take off to Oxford in our car for a few days break from the boat and as Rhonda and Michelle had tried to get to Oxford when they were travelling the area in 2001 but could not get into the centre of the Spired City due to a one way system and obscure signage, we thought we would well master this problem. Despite it being 4.30pm on Friday when we arrived, I tell you it is no wonder it is a university city as you need at least one degree to work out this ring road system I can promise you. After about 45 minutes we flagged it and drove out some 15 miles until we arrived at Woodstock and while we sure weren't ready for any big music festival like they had at Woodstock USA this little town is quaint and amazing and took our fancy so we found a nice B&B which was warm and comfortable and allowed Harry to stay as well.


The town had about 50 B&Bs to choose from so this gives you a good idea of how the tourists love to visit and stay. It is a market town famous for its antiques shops and sales plus every Saturday is a big farm market day which is very popular. Just around the corner from our B&B was Blenheim Palace which covers some 2000 acres and is walled off completely around its perimeter by a stone hand laid fence of up to 3 meters high. It was here that Winston Churchill was born.








Rhonda's Comment: Funny Sign of the Month at the gates of Blenheim Palace.






This palace and area is now a world heritage site and was built in 1705 and gifted to 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne. The grounds were developed by the wonder gardener Capability Brown and these are unrivalled anywhere in Britain so must be stunning in summer. The palace itself has been continually kept fully restored so inside, the state rooms are furnished with priceless portraits and furnishings to suit.

By Sunday morning the village was full to bursting with visitors so imagine what it is like in the tourist season. We had a great time and felt fully refreshed so felt sure we could tackle the road system and solve the secret of how to get into the centre of Oxford to see so many more of the various colleges etc. Yep, we drove through and about for another 30 min's to finally give up in disgust due to the many road diversions as there seemed to be road works forever so we flagged it and headed home sadly.





The Navigator decided in her wisdom that as we had missed Oxford we should do a little detour (90 kms) to the Wiltshire Downs which is famous, not only for its beautiful farm lands and little villages but where carved into the hillsides, chalked white are the pictures of horses sized up to approx 130m x 50m. I thought that this could well be worth the visit, however, as is so often my luck as we arrived into the valley it hosed down in the coldest rain and sleet I have ever felt and one could not see any horses at all only the slow processions of walkers who braved the elements and made their way up many trails through the hills to visit the sites. I can now understand how folk get caught out so readily in this country and die of exposure in such a short time unless well equipped which most strollers are but a few unlucky ones don't make it through.

We dropped down to Avebury, a typical country village where a small museum and visitor information centre was housed in the local church so the Navigator went in and found out that the Horses did indeed exist but were badly in need of a rechalk and the grass needed to be trimmed. What a thought but when you consider that these carvings/paintings were originally supposedly done 2000 years ago, they have stood up well.

The whole area reeks of history, some well known, such as where Tom Browns School days was reported to have happened and in fact the school is still standing and can be visited and this area is not far from Stonehenge and the village of Avesbury is completely surrounded by these huge stones which nobody knows why but have been dated back to the Neolithic era Circa 4000BC. It is so hard to get ones mind around this sort of stuff when as Kiwis we count back a hundred years or so as being our recorded history of development etc.

Other notes of interest from this area is Dragon Hill where supposedly St George slew and buried the dragon. Note. no reference is made to mothers in law.

Well the weather is getting better each day and the days are drawing longer so we feel a bit better about that anyhow and the walks from here are great and Harry treats the area as his own special domain. There are great shows of the early spring flowers such as daffodils, crocuses and snow drops and the willows are just experiencing their first bud burst for the spring so it can't be far away now.

While shopping at Woodstock we picked up a little book of Cockney Sayings so forgive us but we are going to include a few in each of our blog pages as we think they are not only funny but are clever as well. Try a few of these and see how easily they slip off the tongue.

Bad - Sorry and Sad
Beer - Pigs Ear
Beginner - Lilly and Skinner
Bank - Iron Tank
Believe - Adam and Eve
Book - Captain Cook
Barrow - Jack Sparrow
Braces - Air and Graces
Brandy - Fine and Dandy



We have made so many good friends and two in particular, Lindsay and Mike have been so friendly and helpful with making our stay in London so pleasurable and easy, we appreciated it so much and we had the most beautiful pub lunch with them on the Sunday. The sun shone and believe it or not it was quite warm. After lunch we went around to see their new plot of land they had bought right on the River Thames. A place to die for. Thanks again Lindsay and Mike and we look forward to seeing you when you come across to France to visit.

20th March, 2009

We made it, we made it, Bonjour Mesdames and Monsieur’s wherever you are around the world today.

Following a full week of beautiful spring weather and of having some great tradesmen working on Somewhere, the electrical problems all seemed to be solved with some beautiful modification work carried out under the control of Geoff the co-owner of A.C. Marine which is aimed at us being completely safe and able to enjoy all the electrical features that the boat should have been up for. After a quite frantic morning by Phil Somerville, the magic auto-electrical marine engineer contractor to get any of the loose ends tied up on board, around noon on Thursday 2oth March, Stefan (the skipper and other co- owner of A.C. Marine Ltd said “pack up, we are off tonight if the last of the jobs to be done on Somewhere are completed”.


Well, you can imagine Rhonda and I going flat out into pack down mode as this was the day we seemed to have been waiting for such a long time. We had some large cartons which all the loose breakables went into and all else was stowed in the cupboards and all the deck stuff tied down securely so by 5.30 pm we were ready to set off at the scheduled time of 6.0pm but of course, as we all know there had to be hold ups and in this case it was awaiting the new heavy duty mooring ropes still being cut, spliced and lashed, so it was all capable hands being applied to the job etc.


At 6.0 pm Rhonda and Harry set off in our car to make their way to Dover so she would be ready to get the car ferry over the next day. The boat was ready to go at around 6.30, so after a round of good byes to the great A.C. Marine staff that we will miss really as they are a great team, we were off in a hiss and a roar literally as we needed to catch the falling tide lower down the Thames.















It was a night of fine clear skies so navigation on the river was straightforward for Stefan and Phil who are very experienced so my job was chief cook and bottle washer. It is amazing how far we had to travel as the river winds back and forth seemingly forever with three locks to navigate and at one where the original owner of the boat was waiting to wish us well and to pass on the last of our mail. It was great to see Ross and we sure hope he and his good lady wife will join us for a few days in France at some time as we are doing just what they originally wanted to do.



















Once clear of the locks we entered London City proper and thoroughly enjoyed all the sights by night and hopefully the pictures we have included will give some idea of the great sights. At around 2.0 am when we had cleared the tidal control gates which assist in holding back spring tides etc when the Thames is flooding and the city had slid behind us I had to head for a kip, as I was truly stuffed after all the excitement and getting a dinner for us plus making endless cups of tea etc. I awoke at around 5.30am to find us mooching along at around 3 knots as the terrible channel fog had rolled in and was getting thicker so as we were due to move out further onto the river delta etc and as we don’t carry radar we were forced to hug the coast of some of the worlds largest sand banks so as to avoid the shipping channels, as you just can’t believe how much traffic is crossing that area. At one point I counted 15 ships in naked view so you can imagine how unimpressed any of them would have been to find a little Dutch barge pottering across their tracks at 6 knots best speed. When Stefan checked in with the marine radio even they were not impressed with us being out there in these conditions but we sure weren’t to know it was going to blanket us with fog. They told us to drop anchor and stay put until around 9.30 am when the fog was due to lift. I thought, great we can get some proper sleep but no the skipper ordered Phil and I to stay with a sharp lookout while he had a sleep. There is no justice eh!!!!! I have to be honest and admit getting some more kip after an hour or so while Phil kept watch and at around 10.0 am the fog lifted so we did the same to the anchor and set off again. I have to be honest and admit I had no idea of how long it would take to get out to the channel.



Rhonda and I talked on the phone and while she had a nice nights sleep in Dover and had caught a ferry after sightseeing etc reported that her sailing was smooth with bright sunny conditions so it looked good for us once we could get far enough down the coast to actually cross the main shipping channels. Hour after hour we plodded down the coast and it wasn’t until around 2.30pm that we could make our way across and by then the wind had got up and about a meter chop on top of a low swell made the next few hours pretty uncomfortable really. As Somewhere is so flat bottomed you can imagine how she rolled and many times the prop was out of the water as she shuddered her way through. It was a case of checking everything was well tied down and just hanging on and smiling.




video

Play the Video to see how the crossing went.


Having Stefan and Phil to control the trip was great and Stefan is just a marvel at knowing the routes and conditions etc en route. He has done the trip so often I believe he knows the channel like the back of his hand and his only insistence was that there be plenty of food and drink aboard to which he sure dealt to with relish.

Originally he said the trip would take between 18 and 24 hours but due to the fog and the conditions it took us 27 hours to cover this distance. I can only say to anyone who reads this blog that I sure would not advise taking the journey without a fully professional skipper.
At around 9 pm we entered Calais harbor amid a flotilla of cross channel ferries so had to wait our turn then swing on a buoy until the bridge into the Bassin Ouest or yacht basin was opened to allow us in. It was great to see Rhonda waiting for us and after tying up we had a very welcome drink before Stefan and Phil took the car which Stefan had purchased from us and headed off to catch the 11.o pm sailing back to Dover.





It is amazing that despite us having all our documents like passports for us and Harry along with all the boats registrations and certificates we were told we should have ready for the authorities in readiness for our arrival nobody came near us and Rhonda said that the same lack of rules applied when she drove off the ferry.









We unpacked some of the basics then collapsed into bed to try to get back to a balance after so many hours of being up and going at such a rush for the past day to awaken to the most beautiful day you could imagine so we set off for a walk along the promenade and beach front where Harry was allowed to run free on the beach and to paddle in the ocean. Even though it was only 9.0 am there were groups etc up on the beach playing various forms of football and rugby along with other sports so it was quite a sight really. Across the road the huge car park had been cordoned off to allow motorized Go-Karts to race about in gay abandon.


We had a French breakfast at a cafe where they couldn’t speak English and our few words of French didn’t help a lot but in the end we got what we wanted and it was great. The rest of the day was spent unpacking and cleaning inside and out as you can imagine the whole boat needed a good spring clean following its journey and having trades people aboard for so long. I still need to do the wheelhouse as the teak has gotten stained and marked so a big job beckons.

Yesterday, Sunday, we went for a walk through Calais proper only to find that most of the shops didn’t open at all and the ones that did stayed closed until afternoon. The streets were almost bare until after lunch when it seemed to be the time for folk to take to the streets and walk through the many parks etc. We visited the local War Museum which is set in an original bunker built by German occupational troops and was set up into rooms, each depicting many of the scenes and events of the time from the Nazi occupation and murder of so many French civilians to the D Day landings and ongoing ruin of this city. It sure makes one realize how lucky we were in New Zealand to have avoided an invasion of hostile countries etc.

Monday was spent finishing the main cleaning of the boat and setting up our personal stuff and then Rhonda made her way through the city to find suitable phones and email hook ups etc. It is all different here and is costly too so a new budget has had to be drawn up.

The day started out fine and warm but as the day progressed the weather turned really miserable and by around 6.0 pm the wind was gusting to 60 kms plus and even though we are in the Yacht Basin the wind howling down to meet the incoming tide had us bouncing around like a cork.( Yeah 45 tonne cork).



I was doing the dishes and happened to look up to find us swinging at around 35 degrees from the jetty and with the wind howling behind us I could envision us hitting one of the many fishing boats which had also tied up near us unless I could quickly work out what had gone wrong and then how to get the boat back to the jetty etc. It turned out that the heavy duty aluminum cleat on the jetty had snapped letting us drift so it was a case of firing up and putting the boat in hard reverse with the rudder jammed in the opposite lock and slowly she pulled back and got her bum over to the position where I could get more ropes secured to other cleats etc. Well believe it or not but 3 other cleats snapped off during the night but due to my multiple tie offs we didn’t drift but sure didn’t sleep much either as one of the cleats which jointly secured our nearest neighbour was a fishing boat bigger than Somewhere. When you consider that the floating pontoon we are moored to developed a rolling swell of about a meter, you can understand how much pressure was put on these cleats and why we spent such a jumpy night. I slept on top of the bed fully clothed with all the emergency gear near to hand but the morning dawned and we were ok, however, more similar weather is due again tonight so it will be on alert again. So much for a quiet night but we will get by and tomorrow could well be a lovely fine day again.



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Play the Video above to see how close we came


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Has Winter Gone?
















Here we are half way through February at the start of this blog and we have had a whole week of fine weather with temps up to 12 degrees so life and activity on the marina has come alive with owners coming to get their rigs ready for the promised spring and summer weather to come. Engines have been running and a steady stream of craft have been making their way to the fuelling depot, pump out stations and to the fresh water pick up points - including us.

Since our last news we had floods which lifted the levels of water on the Thames and in the marina to such heights that many on river berths were just flooded and people couldn't get to their boats and in the marina the water rose to within a half meter of the ring road which made us all a bit jumpy as to whether we needed to move our cars outside the perimeter fences or what. The ramps ran up hill to the fingers which was quite odd after all the time getting used to them being down to the fingers. Not good if one had had a few too many tipples while off the boat. After about 8 days the water started to drop and the authorities in charge of the Thames began allowing more and more water to drain out to sea while ensuring that more flooding of city areas did not take place as there are a lot of flood plains between us and London central.




Rhonda's Comment: Hayden had such a good party but could not wait to get hold of the Smarties on the cake. It was a race between him and me!!!

February 15th. Rhonda had planned to go home for a rushed visit to see Michelle, Tom and Hayden who was about to have his first birthday so away she flew for 10 days leaving Harry and me to batch. We managed really well and found our way to the two local shopping centres and home again much to every one's surprise I think.


Rhonda's Comment: Hayden in his new Tonka Truck.
Rhonda had a wonderful if somewhat rushed trip to New Zealand finding the hot summer weather almost too much to handle, however, her complaints to me fell on very deaf ears as it was minus two the night she left London. She flew home on Air New Zealand with just a 2 hour stop in Hong Kong making the trip about 30 hours long so as you can imagine she was well knackered by the time she landed in Auckland and it just happened to be the hottest day Auckland had on record - 32 degrees with 100% humidity. As you can imagine she was very excited to see Michelle and Hayden and Tom plus a number of our old friends but missed many others just through lack of time but did see our son Kim a couple of times and much to our joy he seemed to be doing well and is enjoying life despite the recession which affects his work.


Rhonda's Comment: Ken missed telling you about the shopping list he had given me. On my return my bag contained such things as an angle grinder, 2 automatic lifejackets, hose fittings, VHF radio, grinding discs, flags and 12 magnetic flyscreens for the windows of our barge!!!!!!!

Harry and I were fine and thanks to a great couple here also living on board their barge, Lindsay and Mike had us over for a very special and welcome home-cooked meal one night and good old chat etc along with a couple of wines. As we had purchased a 32" tv for the saloon another friend John, another live-aboard mate, also called over to watch a couple of afternoons of the 6 nation rugby comp. He is a very strong Ireland supporter so of course I had to barrack for the opposition just to get the rivalry fired up. Great fun and a neat way to spend some time while on my own.

Well, the 10 days seemed to take forever to pass, we were fine however and used the time to clean every part of the barge etc and to pack up a bit of stuff ready for our soon to be trip down river as part of our trans channel crossing next month. I was so looking forward to Rhonda's return and as the day dawned for her return, John had agreed to come out to Heathrow as my navigator so as to surprise her on arrival to save her catching the bus to Staines where I was to pick her up. We waited at the arrival area for over an hour for her to come through without luck so as you can imagine all sorts of doubts crowded into my mind ranging from her missing one of her connecting flights from Sydney or Dubai to us just plain missing her as she cleared customs and came through. After checking with authorities as John is an airline contractor, we headed home to find that I had misread the arrival date. I was a day too early and as John couldn't accompany me on the Friday I had to wait at Staines for her to arrive by bus. Another hour of travel added to the home journey. My Brownie points are not at any civilised level even yet.


Rhonda's Comment: He must have really missed me.

















You will recall my comments on the Air Force Memorial where some 20,000 men and women who perished without burials is recorded and honoured. At the time the weather prevented any photos but as we had a day which was fine last week we revisited the sight and recorded the photos as shown.



While in the area we also visited the famous area called Runnymede where the original Magna Carta was signed in 1215 by King John in answer to the pressure being applied by the Barons of London demanding more freedoms for themselves and the people in general. It is the basis of all English law and is fascinating to read in some detail. Thank goodness for the Barons.

The area while being of such significance, is not greatly presented considering the importance to the whole 'civilised world'. Apart from two small stone houses situated each side of the main road, one being the typical tea shop, there is really very little to show, however, the Americans paid for a pavilion to be errected on the hillside as they of course use the Magna Carta as their basis for the " Bill of rights" they use. Nearby, is also a memorial garden of one acre which was given to America and is dedicated to J.F. Kennedy so it is all a bit of a hotch potch we feel, however, there are some great easy walks through the fields below and along the River Thames so the walkways are used by strollers and walkers galore along with their dogs who can run free and seem to all get on well together. One can't help imagine what this whole area could be like if given the same sort of attention as so many of lesser important historic places which abound throughout the UK receive, makes one wonder.

Of course nearby is a carparking area which charges for you to leave the car and as we have said before, this is so damned annoying especially when you consider we were out in the countryside. The words, Pay and Display have become our most detested signs in this great country.




















On a walk around the marinas one can't help but be drawn to the variety of names people give to their boats and as we had just had the sign writing finished on "Somewhere" it makes you even more alert and some of them are great. You will see some of the more unusual ones in the attached photos.




















March 2. Well the day dawned this day in spectacular form so we decided that today should be the day we could make our trip down river to Sunbury where AC Marine, the contracted skipper's company who will take us across the Channel to France is situated before a whole new series of bad weather is due this week. After some discussion with Mike, the good neighbours we had at Penton Hook he offered to accompany me while Rhonda drove our car down to this new hook up area. We had a wonderful trip down through some magnificent English countryside and residential areas where homes lead right down to the waters edge and while the gardens are only now showing signs of new spring life one gets the idea of how beautiful some of these areas are in summer. Due in part to the still rapid flow of the Thames we covered the mileage in just over 3 hours and passed through 3 lock sets where Rhonda was on hand to see or operate the locks for us as at a couple of locks the lock master was at lunch. This was a great experience for us all and due to Mike's experience of this part of the river we learned so much it was great. In addition we had a lot of laughs so boating can be fun as we know provided all goes well.



















Upon arrival at Sunbury we had to turn "Somewhere" below the lock and head upstream in the main current which is still quite strong so this took a couple of goes which is a little daunting in the middle of a strong flowing river I can assure you, however, we did it OK and turned upstream to where we had to berth alongside a 200 tonne work barge which is AC's base and workshop. This was quite an experience in itself after having been tied up to marina fingers with no current to being headed into the strong river flow and using heavier lines to tie us up. The barge next door which we have to cross to, has approx 300 mm wide walkways around it so walking to the bow and down the other side to get off onto land via a walkway boarding platform of 3 huge 6 m beams which flex and bounce a bit allows access to the land under the trees is quite an experience. We feel a bit like Robin Hood and Maid Marion once in the forest to use Rhonda's analogy.

We then walk through the bush to another footbridge which goes over the canal to give access to the tow path and roadway. If someone had told us 6 months ago that we would have taken on these challenges in our stride we would have laughed but when you are faced with them as a part of your day to day life, you just have to get on with it.

When we were leaving Penton Hook it was lovely to receive multiple horn blasts from some of our great neighbours (Thomas, Hiliary, Digby and Celeste on Golden Mean and Lindsay on Panacea) and calls of good luck. We also had a tearful goodbye with the young couple who were our immediate neighbours, Jason and Michelle the day before, but as we will be here at AC Marine until the bad weather has passed and final checks on the barge are completed, we will be able to drive back to see them before we cast off for the Channel. We are just up river from Hampton Court so look forward to seeing this great castle as we motor past. Our outlook across the river is interesting as we see the cars on the road and look up to some quite magnificent waterfront properties and landscapes on one side of us and are obliterated by the huge barge that we are moored to on the other.






Rhonda's Comment: Harry will also miss his good friend Max too.









Last night the area was struck by a Force 8 storm which bothered a lot of people but I have to say that while we heard the wind and the rain it did not bother us due I think to being so low down in the water and protected by Elisabeth (The big barge). Today that has all blown past so we seek to shop etc in sunshine and warmer temps, fingers crossed.
In closing this blog issue, I wish to pay tribute to Rhonda who takes my roughly typed stories after spell check has done all it can for me and adds the photos, tidies up the paragraphs along with adding her own comments. We really enjoy and appreciate the comments from our readers however, I just wanted to ensure you that this is a team effort, not just my doing. To you all, take care and we will be back on blog in a couple of weeks when hopefully we will have crossed the 'ditch' and be in France on our way to the BIG ADVENTURE.