Long time he lay upon the sunny hill,
To his father’s house below securely bound.
Far off the silent, changing sound was still,
With the black islands lying thick around.

He saw each separate height, each vaguer hue,
Where the massed islands rolled in mist away,
And though all ran together in his view
He knew that unseen straits between them lay.

Often he wondered what new shores were there.
In thought he saw the still light on the sand,
The shallow water clear in tranquil air;
And walked through it in joy from strand to strand.

Over the sound a ship so slow would pass
That in the black hill’s gloom it seemed to lie
The evening sound was smooth like sunken glass,
And time seemed finished ere the ship passed by.

Grey tiny rocks slept round him where he lay,
Moveless as they, more still as evening came,
The grasses threw straight shadows far away,
And from the house his mother called his name

Childhood   Edwin Muir


The little arrow on the screen remained still, just off Ponta Delgada, pointing north east. I checked it every day and it still remained. I was home and dealing with the after math of Mum’s passing, lawyers, utilities, telephone, return of NHS aids, writing letters, cutting grass and patiently waiting for news. A little text appeared via satellite, “Stravaigin on passage. All well” Relief. I was not worried about the boat or crew, three yacht masters, a good strong boat and fair weather.  However they were way out in the Atlantic. They were having a ball. Poor Jan had left the boat in the Azores returning back to Slovakia for military duty, so just the three had made the second passage from Azores to Dublin but it was going well.

I booked a flight to Dublin, the final one, to meet up with them for the final sail home. The little twin propeller airplane trundled noisily off the runway and made the short flight from Glasgow to Dublin, landing after we had all had a cup of tea and lovely Sean, J’s old school friend was there to meet me. As the boat was not due in until that evening he insisted on taking me home to meet the family and wine and chat flowed as we caught up on our adventures since we last saw them, right at the start and met their lovely daughters Rosie and Kiera, and the dog who lay his head on my lap and gazed up at me hanging on every word. Suddenly Sean leapt up, having checked his Vessel Finder App and announced we had to go as the “boat was coming in!”

We bundled into his car, dropping the dog off at granny’s and we headed to Dún Laoghaire, kids and all. A quick pizza and then a march down to the marina just as I received a text announcing the arrival of Stravaigin, landfall after eight days at sea.

A beaming and slightly hairy, captain stood on the deck as we arrived, delighted at the crowd welcoming them to Ireland and without further ado, headed to the pub for a well-earned Guinness.

It was hoatching, Saturday night in Dún Laoghaire and everyone seemed to have fled Dublin and headed to the coast so after a quick drink, the crew were done and we wandered back to the boat so the captain could finally sleep in his bunk, stationary and with no watch to worry about. And his first mate beside him.

We spent a nice day the next day, after saying goodbye to Michael who was heading home which was only a couple of hours by train away, then cleaning up the boat a bit, refuelling, rewatering, restocking before treating ourselves to a fabulous brunch. We then headed out for a quieter drink in a local pub that evening rather than the huge franchise we had found the previous night. I did notice the rainbow flag in the window and the pink flamingo and unicorn ornaments adorning the bar, but the lads were oblivious, heads in phones catching up on news from home, sipping their manly pints. Time to go as the skies grew dark and as we left the heavens opened in a biblical torrent of torrential rain and we were socked to the skin within seconds. Nothing for it we waded home and literally stripped in the cockpit before dashing down below to dry off. I smiled to myself at dear Stuart, non plussed about decorum as he sat in his thermal underpants, sipping a hot coffee, steaming from head to toe.

Hunger nudged me awake and I smiled as I opened my eyes, quietly. No persistent alarm demanding me on deck to layer up and don red light torches along with life jacket, thermal hat and leather boots to protect my sleepy body from a chill I had not expected in the Mediterranean nights, I was relieved of watch duties as we had three aboard and I would gladly get up to feed us all at breakfast time. At first light we slipped out of the marina and headed north up the coast, a two day, one overnight passage to get to Islay or Jura depending on the weather and tides. It was strange having to factor in the tides again after a year almost of no tidal range but now they had quite an effect and we were keen to get beyond the NW corner of Ireland while the tide was with us.

It was a nice sail, a bit of motoring too but as we headed north the noticeable thing was the amount of marine life everywhere. The sea birds were constant as were dolphin, seals and porpoise. And jelly fish in their thousands, mostly the clear moon with their four purple rings but the occasional orangey brown, lion mane, some the size of dustbin lids, floated by. As the little white capped waves shooed us from behind like children’s’ hands shooing their chooks back to the barn, I could see the distinct dark silhouette of Jura ahead. We were goosewinged out, I’d like to say, gracefully like the Greylag honing in to its nesting site but we were more like Jemima Puddle Duck flouncing her wings occasionally as the wrong wind direction caught the edges of the sail, flapping noisily and regularly.

It was decided we would call in at Craighouse on Jura for the night and it was simply glorious as we sailed up past the Kintyre peninsula, Gigha and Islay, all silhouettes we knew well and a feeling of great pride and nostalgia came over us. It was beautiful. The sun was shining, the seas were blue and there were gannets, puffin, guillemot, terns, seals, gulls everywhere, little colourful fishing boats petered by and gave a friendly wave and the iconic black and red of the Cal-Mac ferries plying back and forth to the western islands made us right at home.

We took a mooring at Craighouse, a small fee if you eat at the hotel and we had been anticipating a feast of seafood at the restaurant as we dinghied ashore, rowing as the outboard had sprung a fuel leak. It was our 34th wedding anniversary so I had contacted the restaurant to book a table and arrange a bottle of fizz to celebrate, along with Stuart it was a double celebration marking our arrival back in Scotland. The meal turned out to be a disappointment as the food was pretty poor however the view made up for it and we wandered along the shore after eating, soaking in the stunning sunset across the water, other yachts mirrored on the still waters, the cry of the oyster catcher making the perfect back tune to the scene. I felt so glad to be back in home waters, though it did not feel real. Stravaigin looked so comfortable sitting in the bay surrounded by mountains and green hillsides, I tried to imagine her against the pink rock of the Mediterranean and it seemed like a distant memory already.

Deciding to draw the inevitable end out a little, we anchored the final night in our local anchorage in Loch Spelve on Mull, literally chucking Stuart off the boat in the dinghy, as we flew by the mussel farm, to collect a bag from the honesty box and he re-joined us with his successful net bag bulging as we anchored at the far end of the bay, a place we had been regularly over the years. We indulged in moules mariniere, the best of the year so far, and watched a flock of geese both Canada and Greylag with little fuzzy goslings following along as they glided along the shore. It was significant how much wildlife there was since returning to Scottish waters and the lushness of the hillsides, resplendent in greens of bracken and ferns, low growing willows and birches, the purple of the early heathers and foxgloves and the yellow of iris and tormentil, painting a Monet type scene at every bay.

The final morning we weighed the anchor and headed over Oban Bay, not a ripple on the water surface nor a cloud in the sky, I stood on the deck at the bow and watched the blue water slip by, jelly fish appearing ghostly as we sailed past them and the sun’s rays piercing down a fair way before being swallowed up by the deep. Past Kerrera, past Lismore Light and Oban, the colourful buildings circling the bay and the ferries bustling in and out and we rounded the point at Ganavan into Dunstaffnage.

There and back again. Eleven months later and we were tied against the quay awaiting a berth as J’s mum and sister welcomed us back with bubbly and balloons much to the skipper’s embarrassment and joy. We were home.

Home is where the heart is and mine had sailed over the ocean and discovered new lands, new people, new experiences and cultures.  We returned to our wooden house in the forest by the sea loch and sitting in the lounge that evening looking out at the sea stretching out calmly from the bottom of the garden, I felt I had never really left home at all, I had been home all along.

Long Journey,

yet it was never too late

to crest the memories of yesterdays.

A voyage that was finished before

and here I am gazing beyond

through oriel windows once more.

An ocean wide stretched from afar

with a quill and vellum on my hand

I wrote these words and understand

life was never easy reaching its core

self must refine from silver to gold

dreams red as velvet, white as snow.

Pure as the heart of every little boy

moulded from a mother’s fervent love

brave, a father’s heritage in honour of.

Blessed by the gift from Nature

toiling day and night from my storm.

She never left me lonely, till all is won

I gazed back to the oceans and saw,

Someone familiar…

Could it be…

Land A Home,

it was a moment of spring.

I step the shore, my heart felt its beat

And Lo, my guardians caress on thee

for there is no sweeter victory

than the ones who truly loved me


From: Oceans Beyond Oriels    Nico Julleza




Push the boat out, compañeros,
push the boat out, whatever the sea.
Who says we cannot guide ourselves
through the boiling reefs, black as they are,
the enemy of us all makes sure of it!
Mariners, keep good watch always
for that last passage of blue water
we have heard of and long to reach
(no matter if we cannot, no matter!)
in our eighty-year-old timbers
leaky and patched as they are but sweet
well seasoned with the scent of woods
long perished, serviceable still
in unarrested pungency
of salt and blistering sunlight. Out,
push it all out into the unknown!
Unknown is best, it beckons best,
like distant ships in mist, or bells
clanging ruthless from stormy buoys


At Eighty Edwin Morgan

And so I found myself in the Azores, a place I never really thought about and certainly did not think I would ever go. I cheated a little and flew there after some time at home, the intention being to meet up with the boat and crew, spend a little time with the skipper before they would set off again and I would have some downtime to relax and heal a little.
I had overnighted in Lisbon on the way out, really convenient flights from Edinburgh and had booked a guesthouse within walking distance of the airport. I trundled my gold coloured trolley down the pavement, dressed smartly in my white linens and lime green jacket. I had decided to dress up for this wee trip, staying in an Airbnb near Ponta Delgada the main town on San Miguel the largest of the Azorean islands. I had also hired a car for the 5 days I would be there so the captain and I could explore a little. I felt quite pleased with myself and arrived at the guest house, big grin on my face and produced my booking document with a flair. The thin, grey coloured man stretched his neck like a tortoise from his extensive collar and peered at me from over his thin glasses.
“No check in until 2pm
It was 11am.
“Ah, ok, well can I leave my bag and I’ll go for some lunch and return later? Is there somewhere nearby to eat?”
Yes, leave bag”. He indicated a space behind the desk, without looking up. “Shops a long walk into town”
Ah well, ok, I wheeled the trolley in place and left, not relishing a “long walk into town”. Standing on the pavement of a busy main road and looked up and down the road with no sign of anything other than medical clinics. I wandered off downhill, a little hopelessly but soon found a pretty city park with mummies pushing prams and teenagers walking along with earphones in, screening out the sound of birds chattering in the trees and leaves rustling on their branches.
And there right inside the entrance to the park was a delightful bijou outdoor café, little mushroom stools and wooden tables, cool jazz music playing round the patio and a pretty Portuguese girl with long black dreadlocks and silver clips decorating her braids, wearing patchwork dungarees, smiling behind the counter.
I ordered a goat cheese salad and her own fresh lemonade and settled back to enjoy the next hour or two until I was allowed to check in.
It was like a scene from Fawlty Towers when I returned to the guest house. The same grey man looked up as soon as I arrived in the foyer, glanced at the clock which read 1400 on the dot and beamed at me:
Ah Good afternoon Madam, would you like to check in now. I hope you found somewhere for lunch and you can sit in our garden if you like or use the pool. I will show you your room which I hope will be satisfactory?”
I looked at him not believing it was the same turtle man, I looked at the garden which bordered on to the duel carriageway and sported metal chairs and tables that were mostly rust, the pool that looked like a homemade job, raised on a platform and with most of the garden floating on top of it and politely declined the offer but yes I would like to see my room.
All was fine though it looked like a mansion from the days of the Czar, velvet brocade wallpaper, stair hand rails of ornate metal, silk flowers in large china vases and a chandelier that once had been clear glass but now yellow and dusty. My room was a box, decorated similarly but it had a terrace, overlooking the garden, great. It was fine for a quick overnight as my flight to the Azores was the next morning. I was a bit paranoid about getting up in time and although I set my phone alarm, I accepted the offer for a wake- up call too.
I was excited about flying to the Azores, over the Atlantic, the same ocean Stravaigin was sailing over, vast and blue. My phone alarm went off fine and I waited for the phone call alarm then there was banging on my door, I was a bit alarmed thinking there was some kind of problem until I heard the tortoise man, shouting,
“Time to get up!” Ah the alarm call, fair enough.
The flight out was fine and I even managed to grab a coffee and Pastel de Nata, my beloved custard tart, for the journey.
I sat looking out the window and reflected on the last week at home. Time spent sorting out some of Mum’s affairs, emptying her fridge, watering her house plants, cutting her grass with the same unreal feeling , like she was away on holiday, distant but not gone. Time spent with family, my youngest at home from University working at the local seafood shack to accrue, hopefully, some cash for the next academic year. A visit to the GP as I felt so run down and a virus was most likely the diagnosis. A visit to my work town to meet up with friends and colleagues and catch up on the college news, no different really to when I left but did leave me with a positive thought about my return and re-joining the bustle of education and learning. Time spent with the newly weds who came down to stay over and we visited the grave, it still did not feel like it was happening to me. And finally time spent with the skipper’s cousin and her family, a real tonic, much gossiping, catching up, Prosecco and warmth, before snuggling down in one of the wee girl’s relinquished beds amongst pink teddies, unicorns and paintings of ponies on the wall.
I realised we should be landing soon as we started our decent and the surface of the ocean got nearer, I still couldn’t see any land although I presumed there must be some down there! The sea got closer and closer and I actually sat up straight as it felt like the surface was a couple of feet below us when suddenly the ground appeared at the edge of a small cliff and our wheels touched it, screeched to a sideways halt like a hand brake turn and we were down! Think I prefer a boat.
And there he was, a tanned, lean captain sporting his shorts and suncap, beaming from ear to ear.
Hello gorgeous!” he greeted me, nice to be back together again.
I collected our car and chauffeured him around this time, checking in at our little flat in a small coastal village, overlooking the sea, with a café underneath. Perfect.
We caught up with the news having been out of contact during his crossing, save the satellite texts once a day to check in on progress. It had been a great sail for them, strong winds, steady direction , good crew and banter. I was still glad I didnt go and so was J. It had allowed him to focus on the voyage and not worry about me and I really was not in strong form. The Slovakian Major had departed in the Azores, dubious as to whether it was a call of duty or the sea sickness he was unfortunately afflicted with. They had also rescued a French “Amel” stricken off the coast of San Miguel by a broken rudder and spent the last day towing the stressed couple back to port for repairs.
We headed out for dinner to a beach side bar and enjoyed the best fillet mignon I had had in a long time cooked on a hot stone slab, the Azores are famous for their cattle, both beef and diary, all cattle were grass fed and seemed to live an idyllic life. I felt ok about eating them.
It was a pretty idyllic place, a cross between Brazil and Cornwall, exotic and jungly along with neat hedges and green pasture. We enjoyed a breakfast of sweet golden pineapple, milky scones with creamy butter, Guava jam and Azorean tea grown in the many plantations here, then we headed off for a visit to the volcanic crater lakes and national parks. It was a lovely drive and we marvelled at the scenery, it really is a much overlooked place and so lush. The wanders round the bubbling pools of boiling mud remined us of Iceland earlier this year, the same geological origins but a lot warmer surroundings here! A visit also to the thermal pools in the river, very touristy though with dams creating artificial pools that groups of folks steeped in, parboiling themselves. We joined them for a while until we turned a sulphur yellow then headed for the village for the traditional meal of stew cooked in the fumaroles, followed by pineapple cream. It was a wonderful day and restful for J before heading out to sea the following day.
We used the car to stock up on fresh food for them then they sorted out a chaffed halyard, it seemed the spring installation of the radar was at fault, perhaps large bolts drilled in too far in the mast had caused it and was well spotted by Mike before the main sail would have collapsed down, not ideal when in the middle of the Atlantic! Stocked up, clean, fuelled up and down to three, they motored out the port and headed round the end of the island before pointing north for Ireland, where I hoped to meet up with them for the final voyage home. I watched them go, getting smaller as they edged towards the horizon, not sad or worried about them, but very proud.
Returning to my solo pad, I changed for the beach and took a picnic with me to a little sheltered cove to enjoy an afternoon of relaxing and sunbathing. I lay listening to the waves break on the shore sending occasional Valellas high and dry up on onto the beach accompanied this time by Portuguese Man-O-War. The children seemed to be well used to these stingers and relished finding sticks to pop their inflated bodies with, then twineing the blue tentacles round the stick and chasing each other with them. The more diligent parents scooped them up and put them in the bin so no one would get stung as the toxin is still live after the creature is dead. They were a beautiful colour, translucent pink and turquoise. A crowd of young teenagers appeared along from me, loud, full of energy and hormones. Shrieking girls in bikinis, boys relentlessly kicking a football, girls “accidentally” getting in the way and having to be removed by carrying them off, with more shrieks.
A group of young Azoreans spread their rush mats on the other side, deep tanned bodies decorated with picturesque tattoos and piercings, young women with long hair, one was sand coloured with dreadlocks, a sliver clip adorning each fuzzy strand, one with a headband holding her mane high on her head and the other raven black, long damp tendrils licking her shoulders and deep brown back. The aroma of cannabis floated over me and the musical lilt of their voices added their own playlist to the bohemian scene as they nestled into their respective men, muscled bodies toned by years of playing in the sea. Young lovers, what a place to be young and in love, what a place to be 56 and in love! The ocean stretched wide in front of me, green, pale green then grey then green, the skies darkened and the wind picked up, sending the tops of the breakers white and foamy, time to go before the weather changed too much. Folks picked up mats and towels shaking off the black volcanic sand and washed it off their feet at the beach showers before slipping on shoes and disappearing off the beach. There was a storm due, the reason Stravaigin had headed off to get ahead of it and use the edges to push her north. As I walked up the beach a kite surfer walked down, setting up his rig for an exhilarating ride on the waves, living the good life. It is always good weather for someone.
The next day was windy and cool so I explored the local area finding the Tea House along the road from my flat and went in the saloon type swing doors. It was a bit dark inside with a few elderly men at tables playing cards that looked up when I entered. A friendly faced woman behind the bar greeted me and promptly took me upstairs by means of a wooden ladder type starircase to a roof top garden, a beautiful little oasis with wooden gazebos and bursts of vibrant coloured beds of head high flowers and bushes.
She gave me a tea menu that was 6 pages long so I asked for a recommendation which she gave and then told me to stay up here to take my tea as it was nicer than down below and really women were not allowed in the male part. She told me the men talk about things women should not hear and sometime say bad words that would offend ladies.
I enjoyed my gentile, feminine time in the tea garden with Azorian tea and little bits of toast with pineapple jam while I wrote and browsed on my phone, wondering how the crew were fairing as I looked out at the large waves pounding on the rocks. All the energy built up travelling over the Atlantic and these lumps of volcanic rock the first thing to impeded their relentless march over the ocean.
I had never holidayed alone before, well not since a student and a week spent in Orkney (another healing time), so it felt odd but was quite therapeutic. Family called which was lovely to catch up on goings on at home and made me feel closer to home. It was strange being away still, still on our adventure but not on the boat. I suppose I was trying to grasp the dying vestiges of the trip, delaying coming back to reality but at the same tine keen to get back to family and a routine.
The evening was festive again with fireworks banging off constantly and the seemingly daily evening ritual of parading along the road with farm animals in carts or led by ropes, families hanging out the back of trucks singing and drinking, dancers with hoops of flags, music and a brass band. I watched them out my bedroom window but could not really work out what was happening, other than a celebration of Azorian life.
The following day was pleasant but my emotions were all over the place, I went from feeling strong and confident and making all sorts of mental plans, to feeling weak, tearful and vulnerable. I was ready to fly home and the next night found me back in my own bed, having done the whole journey from San Roque, Azores all the way to Argyll in a day. Stravaigin was surging her way northeast and it would take her 8 days to make landfall again. I wanted to be there to greet her.

Endings and Beginnings

“You have come to the seashore, neither searching for the rich nor the wise, desiring only that I should follow.

See my goods, my possessions; in my boat you find no power, no wealth.

Will you accept, then, my nets and labour?

 Take my hands and direct them.

Help me spend myself in seeking the lost, returning love for the love you gave me.

 As I drift on the waters, be the resting place of my restless heart, my life’s companion, my friend and refuge.

With your eyes set upon me, gently smiling, you have spoken my name

All I longed for I have found by the water, at your side, I will seek other shores.”

Adapted from Hymn 532.


All I longed for I have found by the water. All that I was looking for I found on the sea.

Here I was sat looking out at the rain pour down the walls and run off the palms, the sky hung low and grey over the island and the sea pounding on the rocky shore, metres from the little white house. The Azores. Way out in the Atlantic Ocean. On my own. Very alone. The silence was shattered violently every now and then by fireworks exploding over the green fields, randomly announcing the start or end of the local festival. The little birds chirped happily in the trees glad of the shelter from this storm passing over the archipelago.

I did not know what to think, how to think. Everything had changed and yet everything was the same. Life continued on.

Stravaigin was 370nm away from the islands by now carrying her crew of three, the captain, lovely soft Stuart and quiet Michael from Ireland and she was surging along at an average of 8knts towards Dublin , her next port of call. I had waved them off three days previously, their faces eager and full of expectations for the next passage, mine was bright to see them off then full of tears once they had let go the lines and turned the stern towards me, heading away to sea. I had sat on the wall and cried a little, not sad to see them go, not worried, not scared, not sad to be on my own, just sad. There was too much ending. It wasn’t meant to be like this. She was supposed to be at home, waiting for my return, waiting for my call to tell her all about the journey, waiting to welcome us back and hug me and make me feel like the most important person in the world, as she does. And she was gone. Gone.

I felt lost. Lost my compass bearing, my anchor, my waypoint, my guidance, my core.

It had all happened so fast, so unexpectedly. Yes she was 90 , many would think, well you must have thought she may leave at any time and in some ways yes I had forced myself to contemplate that but I dismissed it. Not wanting to let that thought in. She was fine, keeping well. Looked after, cared for and happy.

We had left the Balearics in early May and sailed further west to mainland Spain deciding to hop along the coast this time rather than the long continual passage that we had done last year. We had allowed a few days in Majorca as our youngest and his girlfriend were due to join us for a short break however he had been offered an excellent opportunity to attend an academic module being piloted in Finland, all expenses paid so we encouraged him to take it up, his patient and supportive partner doing the same, so we left earlier than planned to make the journey to Gibraltar in good time and get up to Catalonia for the preparations.

Cartagena was our next port of call, a beautiful and intriguing city, grand and with lovely architecture. It seemed old style Spain, proud and full of lovely bars and restaurants. We were booked into the Real Club Nautica which sounded very grand but was actually very affordable and the receptionist was the friendliest and most helpful lady, recommending places to visit and  things to do. We listened diligently but knew with only two nights there and our priorities as always were laundry, shopping, water and fuel, we wouldn’t manage any of these but we thanked her and took her maps and brochures. Yet another place to return to. I called Mum as always and told her all about the city and the journey down, she was interested and asked all her usual questions about the weather, was it busy? how as the food? was I ok? I had shared that I was getting a little tired of being away, something I was not vocal about with J, thinking it might bother him although he knew I was in some ways glad the journey was coming to its fruition, I love my home and missed being away from everyone.  I told her I would call her the next evening when we were at anchor, as the next day we would be out of reception. All was fine, she had visitors coming and the garden was looking lovely. She was glad I was nearer home and was looking forward to seeing me.

Bye bye dear, bye bye.”

We were almost a day out of Cartagena, evening approaching when the storm hit, hard, the maelstrom flew around in circles holding me in the vortex, I held tight to the rail, sobbing. J held the wheel hard and pushed the engine full ahead. The waves picked us up and sent us streaming down the other side, the wind blew our voices away. The phone call had come. I was in a storm. I was lost at sea.

We managed to pull into a cove, horrid and swelly, full of mooring buoys and fishing boats but we could stop. Stop and deal. Stop and think. Stop.

I felt for J, helpless, all he could do was make a plan which he did, while I made the heart wrenching calls to our boys.

Everything seemed a blur, unreal. I felt angry, guilty, scared, gutted and wronged. And lost.

The wedding was next week, we all couldn’t wait to tell her all about it, show her the pictures, the videos, the bride’s dress, my ceremony speech, the gossip, share the love of the day. She had already decided she would not go, the whole thing would be too much for her and we had all supported her with this decision and she felt much happier in the security that we all agreed and would share everything with her once home. I was due home on the Monday after the wedding and couldn’t wait. She was so proud of everyone, her grandsons who would be groomsmen and groom, their beautiful girls at their sides. The stunning bride and us, Mum and Dad, a job well done.

Stravaigin carried her grief laden load along the coast to Almeria the next day, a place the captain had found and fortunately offered all we needed, a safe place to leave her and an airport to fly us home.

I don’t remember those days there and flying home, I believe we flew via London but I don’t recall. I remember arriving at Edinburgh and my first born standing by the car with a bunch of flowers and his strong arms outstretched. I collapsed into his arms.

The week passed in a sad routine of funeral preparations, choosing photographs, organising a piper, notifying people which stung every time. It still did not seem real. I had the oddest sense now and again of “I need to call Mum and tell her what’s happened!” I woke in the night, cold and my heart thumping thinking I’d had a nightmare then the sadness flooding in that it was real. My anchor held  me fast and kept me strong. Amongst this too were gaps of light and joy as we prepared for the wedding the weekend after the funeral.

Our son flew home from his stag do, kayaking in the Pyrenees for the funeral then back again to resume his preparations and I knew how hard it was for him.

I let the tiny bouquet of bog myrtle fall from my hand, tied in a red satin ribbon, a piece of the ribbon that would bind the young couples’ hands five days later in their handfasting ceremony, onto her coffin where she lay with my late brother, overlooked by the hill top where my late father’s ashes were scattered. Myrtle had been in her wedding bouquet and mine and my eldest son’s bride’s bouquet and I pulled a bit to take out to the Pyrenees for this new bride.

New beginnings, new life. She lives on in all of us.

Two days after the funeral we flew to Barcelona and became caught up in a wonderful whirl of preparations, dinners, wine, families, friends, flowers, talking and laughing. The wedding was deep in the heart of the Pallars, the Catalonian Pyrenees, the spring flowers were adorning the valley floors and the hillsides were a vibrant green. The rivers were full and flowing through the dissections of the mountain reigns and the white water rafters were accessorising the river sides with their colours and energy. We set to ferrying guests around, collecting booze from Andorra and sorting out the venues though everything was well prepared by the couple and her family. The day of the wedding was simply magical, everything they had wanted, planned for a year and a truly special for us and our family. The bride was ethereally beautiful, my son in tears of joy, my youngest piped her through the field by the river and my eldest stood proudly at his brother’s side. I conducted their chosen Celtic ceremony and sat while her uncle performed the ring exchange and rest of the ceremony and drunk it all in, committing it to memory that will last a lifetime. I often stood back throughout the day and as night worn on, casting my eye over the assembled crowd of families and friends, old and young and felt so calm and at peace that there was new life and new beginnings here, a lifetime of adventure ahead of them, surrounded by good people that will help to make their journey a safe and happy one.

We left the party at 4.30am feeling rather proud of ourselves and as I slipped in next to the captain, looking for his warmth on my chilled body, I fell asleep with smile on my face and gladness in my heart.

We left for Barcelona a couple of days later and spent a delightful night with our eldest and his wife who were taking advantage of the occasion to explore the city. He is such a sweet boy, folks at the wedding thought he was a Viking warlord but his large muscles and beard cover a tender heart and a gentle soul.  I adore him and his pretty wife who is his angel. Early next morning saw us on a plane back to Almeria and Stravaigin and we sat in the cockpit drinking tea with a look on our faces that read “What just happened?” We hardly had time to reflect and digest, when our first crew member Michael from Northern Ireland arrived and we set to showing him around and settling him in. A retired dentist with three children, a wife whose love is horses, as well as him of course! He was gentle and calm, I knew he’d fit in just grand. A day to restock and charge up, then we headed out the marina and along the coast, final destination for me, Gibraltar.

The next few days were smooth sailing, if a little light for the captain. We motored a lot to boost the speed which was necessary but tedious.

We tried our first anchorage along the coast but it was noisy with tourists and swelly so we went on a bit to another however when we dropped the hook, it kept going! A bit of a drama as the windlass seemed stuck, the anchor was neither up nor down so not holding, the swell and wind were pushing us to the stone breakwater wall and a rather large ferry was steaming in to the channel we were now halfway across! I took the helm and let the boys deal with the stuck anchor, having to winch it up manually with flaked out chain and ropes.  Finally the large metal hook appeared and we were free just in time as I slewed her round and headed for the marina. We were coming in whether they liked it or not however it was not a problem and we tied up alongside the outer quay, glad to be safe and secure. I made dinner but took mine ashore and sat on a bollard to eat on solid ground, the  events of the past couple of hours having rocked me in more ways then one. The next drama was the fresh water pump filter broke in two, for no apparent reason, so out came the Gorilla glue and a temporary fix was applied. All this happened as soon as Mike had arrived, I scoffed at the luck of the Irish! A peaceful night in Motril with a lovely shower, evening and morning, including my breakfast on the quayside too as the choppy berth was making me ill. I had not felt well since the day after the wedding, extreme fatigue, sore throat and headaches, I put it down to recent events and pushed on.

Benalmadena offered us the next berth, choosing to hop into these marinas as they were reasonably cheap, not the over inflated fees of the Costas we had been warned about, though we realised most yachties prefer the Marbellas and Benidorms where you pay to be seen. We finally saw the Rock looming out of the low coast and I felt a surge of pride as we realised we were back here at the mouth of the Mediterranean. The waters had changed along these last few nautical miles turning from blue to green and very confused with currents running in all directions. It gave us 2-3knts at one point. We pulled into Gib to refuel, our three person team now working well together, I liked Mike’s dry Irish humour and he seemed to be enjoying the trip. It boded well for the next big passage. Cheap dieseled up we sailed round the point to La Linea our Spanish port last year and got  a berth only a few spaces along from our original one. I smiled to myself when we saw “Matey’s” boat still there, his offers of cider and plum brandy still being woefully doled out to anyone who passed – although there were ladies clothes hanging out to dry on the rigging – could he have at last found a friend?

It was lovely being back, a feeling of knowing the place, popping over the border in an attempt to buy a charging cable for my phone but no luck so had to buy a cheap replacement phone. I‘m not really a techy person but these experiences teach you  that you need communications and it does become a big part of keeping in touch and connecting with the world. We made our escape from Blackpool-by-the-sea quickly back to the Spanish side and enjoyed a tasty dinner at the marina café. We spent a few days there, a big restock on fresh food for the crews’ voyage, three trolley loads and a drama over a taxi back to the boat which ended up resolved but the captain was in a dizzy sweat! I smoothed things over and sent him off while I rode back with the goods piled high in the back of the taxi and walked back to retrieve my bike, still chained to the lamppost at the supermarket. The glamour of yachting, oh yes. Our second crew member arrived, Jan from Slovakia, a young soldier, dad of two little kids and a very disciplined attitude, we unravelled him of that promptly as J poured him a rum and ran over the very laid back plan for the next few days.

Finally our dear Stuart from Islay arrived, off the late plane, trolley bag trundled behind him and a big hug. He had just finished a cycle sportive race of 100miles and was still high on achievement and hungry. He polished off a sword fish steak that would feed us all and sat back, hands behind his head and stated “Ah that was very good”

Everyone found their space on Stravaigin, we had rearranged and restowed things so they had bunks and storage and I spent the last night with them all.

My flight was not due til late morning but they had to get away at dawn to make the tide out The Straits so as the pink sun was rising and the Rock loomed large behind them, Stravaigin and her four crewmen nosed out the marina and headed due west. Next stop The Azores.

I sat for ages watching them go, not sad or worried. Just philosophical. I did not want to sail with them , it was too far, too long with a possible three weeks at sea and the winds were due to be strong, good sailing but not comfortable. I had done my Atlantic crossing, I was very proud of what I achieved and had enjoyed it but I did not want to repeat it just now. I was low and a little weak. I needed time to recover and build up strength. Over these past couple of weeks I had to keep going. Now I could stop. I had learnt that you need to look after yourself before you can look after anyone else and my family needed me. I needed to be strong for them. Yes I had lost my Mum but my boys had lost their beloved Granny and they were raw. Time to go home.

I sat on the airplane seat watching the Rock underneath me and gazing at the white triangle shapes out on the ocean and though there were sad thoughts, there was also happy ones and I felt a pang of desire to do it all again.

It really is such a beautiful world, so huge, vast and exciting with so many good people living in it. We must strive to be happy. If we have the luxury of living on this planet we need to grab the opportunity with both hands and hold tight but also be gentle with our world. High in the sky looking down it looks so small and fragile but from the surface of the seas, it looks infinite. We all deserve our place on it, we come and we go but the time we have on it we must treasure. It is our treasure trove with untold wonders and we must relish each discovery and finding. Perhaps the greatest treasure of all though, is finding ourselves. All I longed for I have found by the water. I found myself on the sea.


Hymn 532. My mother’s chosen hymn for her funeral, found after her passing, hand written, on June 14th 2018. “Lord, you have come to the Seashore”


I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me.

And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Presuming me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.

But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,

And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve –
And then I started too.

And he – he followed close behind;
I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle, – then my shoes
Would overflow with pearl.

Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

By the Sea Emily Dickinson

I felt him move beside me, the ritual of dressing, the toileting, the pull on of shoes, the red light flicking on in the galley. I pulled the quilt over me and rolled over. He kindly said he was happy taking her out and I should sleep on but after a few moments I felt awake and excited. I wanted to get up. I quickly dressed and appeared at the foot of the companion way.

“Oh hello you, I thought you would sleep on?”

“I wanted to get up and see us going out. Fancy a cup of tea?”

We sat in the cockpit, cradling a cup of tea, as we slid out the narrows between the islands, a current running and using the lights on land to guide us. It was very shallow here and we had to follow a narrow channel that was supposed to be marked by sector lights. We couldn’t see any but followed the chart and gradually Stravaigin flowed out the channel and into open waters.

“I’ll take the watch now” I said.

J happily accepted and headed down below to catch up on sleep and I settled down to keep watch and see us on our journey across this stretch of the Mediterranean. It would be a full day and night crossing and we hoped to be in Minorca by mid afternoon the following day. I was well suited up, the chill of the night still requiring an underlayer and full waterproofs on top. My hat was handy and I looked at my tanned hands peeping out of the long sleeves, they didn’t look like mine. I loved being out here on my own, I felt strong and competent. A small group of dolphins startled me as they leapt at the side of the boat, silver in the black night causing phosphorescence as they splashed.  The waters were odd, currents drifting and a lot of flotsam floating by. There was a mist lying on the surface too and with the blinking lights on the shore it looked surreal. I noticed what looked like foam in huge rafts floating by, then it looked like polystyrene blobs all clumped together. I couldn’t make it out. I was a bit concerned, what if it clogged the engine intake. I checked it and shone the big torch on it but still could not figure it out. It was endless, whiteish and blueish. I wanted to get the net and scoop some up but we were going around 6knts, too fast for that. And I was always concerned fiddling about on deck in the dark on my own so sat back and focused instead on the screen showing our progress and more importantly any shipping around. I loved watching the day grow from dark, no light to light just glowing on the horizon. The stars slowly faded, Venus clinging on and the moon paling as the light built from the east. The waters slowly changed colour or at least took colour as we surged onwards, the bow breaking the surface and parting the waves, sending wakes on either side. The blobs were still there not so much a solid raft but dots now. Everywhere the eye could see and for ever. The sun rose casting colour and definition to the sky and clouds, the dew on deck slowly dried back and the teak wood dried off to its pale brown colour. Bit by bit my layers came off, my hat lay under the pram hood, next my jacket and finally my dungarees until the sun was revealed in her full round and my legs appeared too and my brown bare feet, again not looking like mine. I had never been so suntanned.  I felt quite Bohemian.

I glanced down at the water again and could see now these little dots were transparent like bubbles, some tiny only a couple of centimetres, others bigger but still only 5-7 cm at most. They had minute sails and were angled across the wind, all in the same orientation. They were fascinating and so cute like little Disney creatures bobbing along, so dense I felt I could scoop my hand in and bring up a dozen at a time.

Vellelas “ By the wind sailors”,  tiny jellyfish-like polys which are related to the Portuguese Man O War, but are part of a specialised ocean surface community. Each individual is actually a colony, most are less than about 7 cm long. They were a deep blue in colour, but with a small stiff transparent “sail” that catches the wind and sails them over the surface of the sea, just like us.  I was fascinated by them and managed to get a good look at one as unfortunately I found one high and dry having been blown up on deck and could see the deep blue tentacles that hang down in the water and how they catch their prey, generally plankton. The body seemed to have no colour but the blue of the tentacles was so vibrant it stained the white deck.

Once J was awake I told him all about them and we stared at the wee dead one, amazed at the wonder of nature to have evolved such a thing. To sail!

The voyage was smooth, sun was out, not much shipping and unfortunately not much wind so we motor sailed a lot. I was not feeling too great, not seasick just not quite settled. It was noisy and every hour we felt poorer and resented the necessity of having to use the engine. Friends we had made who were cruising on to Greece and Turkey had no agenda, no deadline, no home to return to, so only sailed when there was wind staying at anchor enjoying the place until the winds changed, next time we thought, it’ll be good to do that.

The day wore on and we chatted and dozed and planned and listening to music and ate. Until the light began to fade again and the sun’s warmth slowly pulled back, causing a chill to shiver down my back.

The night watch would start soon so preparations are made. Red light torches, lifejackets and harnesses on, warm clothes and waterproofs ready, snacks in the centre cockpit table, book and glasses laid out for quiet spells. I was happy on night watch now. I was comfortable on my boat, I know how she works and am much more confident. I still need help to trim the sails but I know what should be done. I can take the foresail in and out. I can tighten and loosen the mainsail. I can start and stop the engine. I can operate the AIS and steer us out of harms way. I know when to wake the captain for advise. Yes I think I am a sailor now.

And still the Velellas continued to float by, on their way to who knows? Everywhere, all around in every direction, I marvelled at their numbers, the sea was covered in them and if this was this part of the Med then how far did they stretch? I realised the rafts of foam I had seen previously were swarms of them, pushed by the currents flowing through the straits and funnelling them together.

As day broke the next morning, we saw low lying Minorca ahead. It felt strange returning here and our visit last autumn seemed a lifetime away. Although it also felt good sailing along the familiar coastline, recalling the bar cut into the cliff side and the little coves. I remembered how I’d felt having to pass these by and feeling a bit miffed we couldn’t visit but now I knew how this works and anchoring means staying near the boat for safety, we’d seen too many near misses with yachts dragging anchor and other boats straying too near ones at anchor, you just need to stay aware and look after your vessel and home.

We pulled into a little anchorage once we had made it across to spend the night, before nipping round to the main town in the morning. We were tired after our two day passage so chilled out, fuelling up and watching our download films. We watched “Fish People” which seemed so apt lying in the cabin on the water surface watching these amazing folk who live their lives in the sea, beautifully filmed and narrated. Maybe we were sort of fish people too, living our lives by the rhythms of current, wind and wave.

Mahon welcomed us back with sunshine and bustle.  We got a lovey berth along the town quay and as soon as we tied up we had a good feel about this place. The marinara was welcoming and helpful, the neighbours smiling and the tourists looked happy and pleased with life. I was glad to be ashore and soon took myself off for a walk around the port and up onto the higher path that overlooks the town. Huge ferries and cruise ships were berthed further up the inlet and I marvelled at how they navigated this narrow channel. I sat on a bench back from the busy area in a quiet rather run down part of the backtown and watched the world from backstage when a youth appeared and asked some directions. I was immediately suspicious as I had my phone in my hand and my handbag at my side. I told him what I knew of the steps he was looking for “To meet with friends” but I felt tense. He was a little dishevelled and seemed nervous talking to me.  He went though some pleasantries like where I was from, what was I doing here and seemed genuinely impressed I was Scottish and had sailed here, he was a bit lost he said and couldn’t remember the place his friends had described and he had lost his phone so couldn’t call them. He soon went off in the direction I had given and I watched him as he went deciding I might go back down to the port side another way as it was quiet here with no one around when I saw a few other youths appear up the steps and he hugged one of the girls and clapped the back of the other lads, they grouped together laughing and chatting and walked past me deep in conversation, big smiles on their young faces. ”Jeez” I thought, I felt guilty at judging him, he could be one of my sons, a little lost, maybe the day after the night before scruffy and relieved now to have met up with his pals, I felt mindful not to judge everyone for the one isolated incident from Sicily. He had approached me and asked for help and I had given it. I hoped my own lads would do the same.

We spent a couple of days restocking, refuelling re-watering and fuelling up ourselves, it was delightful berthed right alongside the town quay as I could do my favourite thing, sit in the cockpit with all the cushions out, in the sun, with a coffee or glass of wine depending on the time of day – this seemed to mist over though as the trip continued on! And watch people going about their business. I watched the smart Minorcans with laptop bags under their arms purposefully stride along to the office for a meeting, the smart ladies meet up with friends for café con leche and the couples wander arm in arm perusing menu del dias not really interested in the food but relishing the love time together. And families with colourfully dressed tots, taking hands as they jumped up on the low wall and balanced their way along the top to “jump” down to applause of how brave they were. I was taking all this in one evening as dinner time was coming to an end, the sun was setting and folks were returning to their houses or hotel rooms when a young couple caught my eye. She was beautiful, slim, high heels and a scarlet red summer dress with flutted hem and shoe string straps, he had his pale blue going-out shirt and beige chinos. They were side by side and she was flicking her long blonde hair off her shoulders nonchalantly. As they came near the lovely little mermaid statue at then end of the wharf they stopped as many do to look at it and usually take photographs but he pulled back and stood looking at these two lovely ladies, then as she turned round, he dropped on one knee producing a little black box from his pocket.

It was a beautiful scene and I watched only long enough to see her hands come to her face and a smile that lit up the evening against the golden sunset, then I pulled back under the canopy not wanting to intrude on their moment, though they were oblivious to the world, starting an adventure of their own and creating their own world from now on. I smiled to myself and thought of my middle son whose wedding was fast approaching and couldn’t help think over the years as he had grown from a blue eyed smiling adorable kid to a fine young man about to be become a husband. My eldest already a husband of nearly 4 years, once a little, slightly shy boy who was nervous to ask for the tomato sauce in a restaurant and now filled every room he entered with his strong presence. And my youngest, known for his affectionate haplessness but had lived independently on the plains of Guyana, the Oman desert, the forest and lakes of Canada and the glaciers of Iceland. What had happened, where had these years gone, I still felt a young Mum but now my youngest was at university, a lovely girlfriend of his own, living in their flat in Glasgow. Yup, time to enjoy this time out, my brood were well fledged and thriving.

The next day was the day before the captains birthday and we had ordered him a Kindle so he could pass his time when on the long return passage across the eastern Atlantic but I wanted to get him a surprise too. I had come across a nice sailing shop on my wanders and seen a smart sailing jacket, bright and lightweight and like the posh sailor types were wearing around the marina so decided to get him one. He doesn’t really like getting clothes, none of my lads do, but when they do get something nice they appreciate it and enjoy looking good, so luckily he was up for this purchase. We went along and he was spoiled by the elderly Minorcan gentleman who fussed over him and suggested the right cut and colour until they settled on a bright orange wind proof jacket. It was very smart and cool looking and certainly better than the slighlty scruffy one he had worn continually over the past 10 months. Job done he set of for the yacht club office to do his downloads and get updated weather reports, leaving me to window shop the trendy boutiques of Mahon. Mistake! I had seen a really nice shop the day before with a collection of clothes that literally I could have bought everything, they were my style, cut, colour and size but there was one piece that stood out. A lime green, faux leather jacket, smart as new paint and had my name on it. I went in and the lady, my age and I got on famously. We chatted and I told her about the wedding, my soon to be Catalonian daughter in law and she was  a big Catalan fan, she know the Pallars and she had been to Scotland. Turned out her husband was a yacht master too and sailing instructor and she was a teacher but had this shop as her side hobby. When I told her what we were doing, she took my hand and said “You are living our dream” She told me she and her husband were planning to do a year off and sail in their boat to Turkey and Greece and maybe to Ukraine. We talked for ages and she insisted on calling her husband who appeared soon after to hear our tales and they looked at each other and said, in Spanish, “we have to do it”.

I bought the jacket and left with a big smile on my face thinking about the adventure they were about to embark on and desperate to call Mum and tell her all our news and about the jacket as it had her all over it. She was in great form and was delighted about the jacket, she loves hearing about my purchases! Definitely my mother’s daughter.

Can’t wait to see it” she said.

“It’s the same colour as your Sicilian Furla bag, you’ll love it but its not leather, my spending budget can’t quite justify that”

Och, its only money!” she stated.

Reluctantly we let the lines go the next morning and we motored out the channel, continuing west. We stopped the night in Calla de Caves where we had visited last year with its megalithic caves cut into the cliff sides. It was a bit choppy and with the winds funnelling around we had to be careful to make sure she was held secure on the hook. Every time that anchor went down, she hit home first time and held fast, it was so re-assuring and we were glad we had elected for this big heavy job. I dipped my feet in off the stern but the water was still so cold, I decided against a swim.

We headed for Calla Agulla round the bay from Alcudia on the east of Majorca and celebrated the captain’s birthday the next day in style. A lazy day for him and a busy one for me resulting in a tomahawk steak, roast potatoes, salad and a home made birthday cake. I had found a mix at the bottom of a locker and made it in a loaf tin decorated it with a tub of butter icing I also found and sprinkles! He was delighted and it was all delicious though I say so myself. He got lots of calls from his family and was left a little teary at the attention, stating he was a lucky man. We sat out after dinner admiring the view of the turquoise waters all around and the white beach curved in front of us and felt indeed  very lucky. How many people get a chance to do this, though we had worked so incredibly hard to afford it we had made the bold decision to do it. Sometimes the hardest part is making the decision, once its made, things fall into place as you now have a plan, not just a dream.  It is not all easy, there are highs and lows but you journey through them together. Life throws you curved balls from time to time and you just need to deal with them. Black holes appear that you never saw coming and you find yourself being sucked in, almost helpless. Until you reach out a hand and someone grabs it and says “I’ve got you”

I was finding out a lot about myself, I often described myself as unconfident, quiet, slightly scared but here I was almost a year in and  heard other people describe me in a different way, it didn’t sound like me at all. The captain has always been confident, bold and strong, not perfect by any matter but with a self assurance that exudes confidence in others and encourages you to give it a go. I had and look where it got me.

Time was moving on and the unfortunate side to this was we had a deadline, all be it a good one. The wedding was coming up and we had to be in Gibraltar  to leave the boat and fly up to Barcelona to help out, as planned the week before the wedding. We sailed on towards Ibiza, stopping overnight at at Cabrera, a little known island off the south coast of Majorca that is a national park and marine protected area. Another place we agreed deserved a longer visit in the future. Finally anchoring off Formentera at Es Pujols,  opposite Ibiza we had time to relax a  little and catch up with emails and messages. I was busy preparing the ceremony the couple had asked for and secretly preparing a surprise book of connections to the couple. It had seemed a good idea at the time but it was such hard work trying to collate all the contributions and make a book of them, most written in Catalan so translating them was tricky. I had endeavoured to learn the language before the wedding so I could chat to my daughter in law to be’s family and friends but it was harder that I first thought and I had no one to practise on. I accepted this may be a longer term goal.

Dawn saw us slide out the tight gap between Ibiza and Formentera and negotiate the space with fast ferries and other yachts bustling around. Glad to be out in open water again we relaxed a bit until we received a navigational warning.

All ships, all ships, all ships, navigational warning in Bay of Ibiza, a white cow is adrift. I repeat a white cow is adrift”

We looked at each other, really?

One it was identified as white, not brown, black or Friesian.

It was a cow, not a bull.

It was adrift, so not under way or making progress.

Poor thing, I wondered if anyone was going to attempt to rescue it or was it a deceased white cow but then they may have refereed to it as a carcass? How did it become adrift had it slipped its “moo” – ring? Had its Anchor (Butter from green green grass” ) dragged. Or had it slipped into the sea while grazing near the shore – or tumbled off the back of a ship.

We’ll never know and never saw it. But we kept an eye out. J more interested in another tomahawk steak while I worried about the poor thing floating around.

A former crew member noted on our social media post regarding the incident later that day, there are highs and lows in adventure but perhaps the biggest fear is boredom, never a dull moment on this adventure!

Westering Home

Not so long ago, Palermo

was the richest city in the world.

Phoenician sails were sunset gold

across turquoise seas, Greeks  brought

dazzling marble, white as snow,

Romans green or purple phorphyry,

Moorish mathematicians mapped

the nights high-domed starry sky 

and Monreale Valley air was filled

with fragrances of flowering lemons

from the royal groves Boccaccio knew.

But most precious of all Palermo’s pearls

is time, memories the Muses cannot lose

nor countless Mediterranean waves erase.

Memoria by Patrick Hunt

And we were back in Italy. We pointed the bow into a choppy little anchorage nestled in a round cove, rocky coastline all around us. We struggled a bit to find a calmish anchor point as the seas were very confused, swell coming in to the cove, refracting round the horseshoe bay so we took Stravaigin is as much as we dare. Hook down and settled we took stock of where we were. Capo Testa was a stunning Sardinian spot. Rocky peninsulas and inlets formed from pink and cream granites with close growing, wind worn plants sheltering in the cracks and cuts. We were tired so relaxed for a while before deploying the dinghy and my training continued. It was choppy and bouncy but I managed to get us to shore safely and dry. The little beach was peppered with families and couples enjoying the sun and pink sand so we decided to join them and spread our towels finding a suitable back rest and relaxed.

It lasted 20 mins.

Let’s go for a walk I suggested as J fidgeted and rummaged about, not a fan of beach life. It was the better decision although as the coastline was simply stunning. How many more surprises can Sardinia offer, they just keep coming. The rock formations were amazing and coupled with the waves which had built considerably since our arrival, made for a spectacular scene as they pounded the rocks and spewed high into the air sending salty spray over the spectators. I recalled as a child being with our family on holiday in Durness and father, for some reason or other, decided to venture quite far out to the edge of the cliffs to see the huge waves surging in and exploding against the rock. There was a spout of sorts in the cliff edge that sent a jet of water sky high every now and again and he took it upon himself to stand astride it! I think I remember him wearing his kilt too.

He did return unscathed but Mum was not amused.

Luckily the captain did not copy this behaviour though did venture further out that anyone else as is his modus operando, a trait followed by most of our offspring too. I usually look away and hope it’ll end alright.

We wandered along to where the lighthouse stood strong and safely, I always get a comforting feeling when I see them, a symbol of safety and that someone has thought about us folk at sea and decided to take care of us. There were some very trendy cliffside bars with palm leaf roofs and white aproned staff, a bit too “Night Manager” for us so we followed the stone steps down the cliff to a rocky cove and found a tiny path that peeked its way along the shore to a little boat house with wrecked wooden fishing boats dragged high and dry into the caves in the rock. The path continued along through low growing shrubs that we had to stoop under to get through. J went ahead but stopped at a promontory and looked out to sea then back at me and smiled. I knew what he meant.

Back on board I made food for us quickly, the swell was not pleasant, so much so we decided to move a little further in as we had the depth and with the forecast, reckoned we’d be here a day or two to let the high winds pass. We did manage to creep her in and round the promontory a little which did settle her a bit and it was lovely sitting out in the cockpit enjoying a cool G&T, the only boat in the cove and drawing admiring looks from the beach goers.

The next day we decided to walk to the little town for some shopping so took the rucsacs and set off. It was a lovely walk along a trail that paralleled the road and led to the town, Santa Teresa Gallua, we built ourselves up for a nice lunch too so were glad to walk down the dusty road into the village to stop at the first café and have a good Italian macchiato. We’ll save ourselves for lunch. We walked to the first mini market, shut. Oh well another 10 mins to the next, shut. Ok, so there is one on the outskirts another 15 min walk so we hurried along checking our Google directions and found it just as they pulled the shutters down. Nada, nothing, zilch to be had in Santa Teres Gallua, nothing for it but walk back and see what we could find on the boat.

It was lovely to see Stravaigin  bobbing about in the bay as we crested the hill, she looked so proud in her white hull, blue stripes and St Andrews flag flying pronouncing her origins. The flag often drew glances and curiosity which we were happy to chat about if asked. We are proud Scots. We’ve sailed her from home and she feels very far away.

I was feeling far away, so once we had finally found a little café, right at the head of our bay we settled down to a plate of calamari and chilled wine and I called Mum. It was a delightful chat, our middle and fiancé were with her having come down to spend the day with her. He had made fish pie so they had enjoyed that, then they had taken her out for a little walk as it was sunny and warm, she could walk a little with her stick but they had her wheelchair so they could take her further  and show her the air field that she lives near, the beautiful shoreline of Lorn, the new extension to her neighbour’s house and finally a tour of her garden where everything was in full May bloom. She told them the names of each flower and plant and I smiled as no doubt they wouldn’t take in as I hadn’t but they would have nodded earnestly and engaged beautifully, as I do. They called us on the video phone and we sat, us in the garden of the café by the sea and them in her living room, her red lipstick and scarf echoing her brightness. And we chatted and laughed and caught up on news, she looked so happy and I was happy that she was well and my family were loving her and enjoying her as much as I do.

I slept sound that night but in the morning when the young couple sent me pictures from the day and I saw her in her wheelchair she looked so frail and little. Her eyes soft, clouded and smiling, her arm outstretched showing them something, her scarlet red jacket punching the scene with her being. I yearned to go home and be with her.

J knew I was getting homesick and we were on our way, not long now. It seemed a constant battle of emotions to stay and enjoy this experience, to live every moment, keep exploring and discovering. And the yearning to be at home, in my home, pop over to Mum’s and put the kettle on.

We left Capo Testa as soon as the weather calmed a little, it was a slightly tense exit from the cove as the waves pounded all around and we had to keep a straight line out the entrance but once onto the open sea she sailed well and we headed her round the coast, southeast across the large bay to Stintino, our next port of call.

This was a cute little place. The marina was basic but had a nice feel to it. We were berthed next to local boats but with a liveaboard English gent who appeared to take our lines and gave us a quick run down on the place. I love that cruisers do that, they know what you need to know and try to help you live your just a little easier.  Once settled in, hooked up to water and electricity, rubbish cleared and boat washed down we wandered ashore. It seemed easy to walk along the shore on the floating pontoons to access the village, we saw a group of teenagers amble along, their jostling and japing making me smile. They are no different the world over. Once at the end of the pontoon though it disappeared and there was no way ashore, we sighed and contemplated the long walk back and round the road way when the youths sprang to our aid and insisted we follow them. Well there was bit of a pantomime as one bold dare devil leapt ashore using one then two rocks as stepping stones and dug up a long plank from the sand that he promptly set across the rocks to just about reach the pontoon and indicated quite proudly that we should walk the plank. J of course managed fine and I looked a little hesitant. No problem, one took my hand and edged me across while the captain met me on the other side. Who says youths are ignorant trouble makers, these were delightful. It was obvious Stintino was yet another tuna port with paintings and posters proudly depicting the corralling and hunts. Each house in the town had a painting or mural of a villager who was a tuna hunter or a fisher man, it was lovely that they were so proud of their heritage and commemorated their heroes but on the other hand look where it had got them. None left. Though in talking to locals they say they fished sustainably, only taking enough for the village and a little to sell for a profit, it was when the huge tuna factory ships came from other countries, greedy and short sighted, the stocks were depleted.

Back at the boat, we sorted things out, cleaned and enjoyed a little down time. J was busying down below as he always does and I sat on deck enjoying a cup of tea and watching the world as I always do. There was a large, new, sleek Italian fire patrol boat moored alongside the dock, powerful and grey. It seemed there was trainees aboard as they were tying and untying ropes and warps. I nonchalantly watched them as the engine started and a few on deck prepared to cast her off, in the “springing off” technique we often use, from the bow. The engine roared and the ropes tightened and the waters around boiled as the props stirred them in a whirlpool. And she shot forward, full speed. The rope broke and she drove straight into the concrete dock, full speed! I looked, mouth open, not really believing what I was seeing. Much shouting and blue uniformed men pelting around on deck and a couple of marinaras running back and forth like a scene from “Carry on Sailor”. She proceeded to drive herself further into the concrete as bits of the wall crumbled off and then her stern rounded towards the rock break water, smoke and racket emanating from the engines. A pleasure cruise boat appeared from stage right, threw lines to the deck crew and pulled her off the dock side, just as the engine finally cut out. “Eh J, you might want to come up and see this?” It had all happened so quickly, all he saw was a large, sleek, new Italian fire patrol boat with a large dent in the bow and a concrete dock with a bite out of the side and chunks of rubble tumbling into the water.

Well the marinaras would have something to recount a hundred times down the bar that night with a hundred suggestions of what they think happened and what they should have done.

Time was moving on and so should we, so we reluctantly took our leave of Stintino and made the short hop across to Isola Piana to spend the night and be ready for our departure from Sardinia and crossing over to The Balearics. Everything seemed to be getting so real now, we were actually nearing the end of this amazing journey. We anchored in a pleasant bay, a couple of small day boats around, likely to move off as the sun went down. We dinghied ashore and walked round the coast, it was wild and not really with a path so we picked our way through scrub and scratched our ankles on thorns to reach the other side with a view of Spiaggia Della Palosa, renowned as the most beautiful beach in Sardinia. Well as we approached over the rise we could here the pumping tunes and see the jet skis raze around on the admittedly stunning turquoise waters. It was a shallow bay, too shallow for us but I was quite glad as it seemed full of the beautiful people in motor boats and being there just to be seen. We turned our backs on the scene and happily picked our way over to the opposite side facing Isola Asinara, a nature reserve. No habitation though I believe there had been a jail, what is it with jails on these idyllic islands, I think if I were a criminal, I’d be quite happy with a sentence here!

Sitting on a warm rock contemplating my good fortune not to be imprisoned here but here by choice I looked down and saw a small tortoise fumbling his way along the scrubby ground. He looked very cute, wee legs and tail and blinking eyes. I’d never seen a wild tortoise before. I filmed him for a while deciding to send the video to J’s little cousins thinking they might be tickled to see a wild tortoise. They were adorable wee girls and we had this pretence thing going on of Captain J and Auntie E living life on the ocean wave, mermaids waving to us from wave washed rocks, dolphins clicking at us from the tops of breakers and pirates brandishing cutlasses from wooden ships, the Jolly Rodger flying. They had come with us the day we had renamed our vessel performing the ceremony with King Neptune’s blessing and they had been spellbound so I guess the reputation had just stuck. I liked it, little people should have magic, mystery and imaginations fired.

We dinghied back aboard and settled down for an early night, at dawn, well pre-dawn we were off, back across to Minorca. Heading west.



I am the fire that burns your skin

I am the water that kills your thirst.

The castle, its tower I am,

The sword that guards the treasure

You, the air that I breathe,

And the light of the moon on the sea

The throat that I long to wet

Which I fear drowning in love.

And which desires will you give me?

You say, “Just look at my treasure,

it will be yours, it will be yours.


“Tuyo” Rodrigo Amarante: Theme Tune to Narcos

Arriving for the first time on Corsica was a bit strange as still felt like Italy. We anchored in a picturesque bay on Ille Cavallo, a private island owned by a consortium of wealthy Italians who had built an exclusive development of villas on it and welcomed us with a sign basically saying “Private Keep Out!” Well there was no one about other than the workmen doing the winter maintenance on the houses and gardeners tidying up the gardens, this included some JCB’s trundling back and forth with huge palms trees, a strange sight of tree tops bobbing along the skyline! We stepped over the private sign and wandered around this luxury housing scheme. It was very tasteful and some of the houses looked like little Hobbit homes with curved roofs and rounded windows. That evening we were woken by the strangest noises I’ve ever heard, sounded like elves! Still no idea what it was but it went on for ages so I concluded it may be some sort of sea bird or toad courtship call. Well it is spring!

The sail round the coast the next day was brisk and the entrance to Bonifacio is stunning and very unexpectant. It is a line of high cliffs like an impenetrable barrier until you see the small lighthouse on a promontory which marks the gap in the cliffs then you basically make a sharp turn and head straight for the cliffs as the narrow entrance reveals itself. It is quite a spectacle sailing in through the channel with high cliffs on both sides, the fort staring down at you and the pretty port all huddled at the end of the channel. There was a side channel where we could have taken mooring lines and hung off the rock cliff but it would mean us being out of the town and I quite fancied seeing the port and being amongst the bustle. It was a bit of a stressful arrival at the marina, so much so I shut myself in the toilet and gave a Van Gogh’s silent scream but once it had all calmed down we went ashore and wandered round the small port and up to the Haute Ville with spectacular views down to the seas we had just sailed over. It’s then it hits you how hard we have been working, these seas are big, the waves huge, the winds strong and it is no wonder it takes a lot out of us, more than we realise. We have been on the go for months, constant calculations whether it is routes to take, water usage, meals to make, energy to burn, diesel to use, anchorage to head for, money to budget for never mind keeping a check on things at home which are not always smooth. We try to take an unsaid check in on each other now and then as we both feel stresses rising and strains on our relationship but we diffuse the rising tensions and make that effort to soothe and relax. Coming to this French island has been a desire for a very long time, since we were teenagers. I am not sure what its draw was for us but probably the fact it was French and we were big fans at the time as Brittany was the first place we travelled to together, the first time I had been aboard in fact, other than my summer in the US as a nanny the summer before we met, the fact it had mountains and I guess a bit of the rebel Corse appealed to us with similar separatist alliances. However it had never happened for various reasons so to be finally standing on Corsican soil, drinking a Café au Lait and eating the best baguette bread, we were a bit overawed. A bit emotional.

We treated ourselves to Soup de Poisson our firm favourite and something we had forgotten all about until we saw it on the menu blackboard of the restaurant beside our pontoon and agreed the next treat for tomorrow would be Moules et Frites! It was good to refresh the batteries and stay still for a couple of nights, I even managed a nice shower and hair wash, dressing up in some decent clothes other than sailing gear and enjoyed the pavement café culture for a short while. It didn’t last too long though as we needed to do some repairs and J had to climb the mast to replace bulbs in the anchor and steaming lights. This involves me belaying him which I quite like doing and gives me a sneaky chance to wonder how it would be if I tied the rope off and left him dangling there for a while! Anyhow, I behaved myself and we got the jobs done, safely then made ready for heading off, the usual water and fresh food topped up.

The sail up to Propriano was tough, a lot of beating in which is demanding and tiring , there was a big swell too so we decided to stop earlier than we originally planned and stay at this smaller port rather than Ajaccio as it seemed cheaper at the marina and we could hire a car from there to go explore the interior. It was a wise decision as it was a lovely wee town with a good marina and plenty facilities and the car hire was very cheap. We booked the berth ahead for four nights at E150 plus the car hire for three days at £75 and arrived at the marina, contacted them to ask where we should berth but they spoke po English so luckily our French kicked just as the engine conked out! I rapidly got on the radio to them to tell them this and ask for marinara help as we were now in the marina basin with a short turning circle and full of other yachts tied up while J tired to restart it. No help was available so I got ready to fend us off any boats we drifted near while J repeatedly tried to restart, this involved a lot of blue language both Scots and French abut seemed to do the trick as she coughed into action just enough to reverse us into our spot and tie on the mooring lines. Phewff, it’s never easy.

The engine had been faltering a little over the last couple of days, a thing it had never done since we bought the boat three years ago., so this was worrying. We had to go and collect the hired car before the place shut so we scurried over to the marina office to check in and it soon became very evident we were not in Italy anymore, two females who had no clue or interest in boats that talked to each other as they processed our documents with barely looking at us and blowing cigarette smoke in our faces, scruffy hair, dishevelled clothes, quite the opposite of the stylish and charming Italians. It was pouring with rain so we kept our sailing wet gear on and walked round the bay to find the car hire place, it turned out to be in a car showroom and the staff there were quite the opposite, really friendly and helpful and then the lady walked us out to the car park to show us the car. Hello!!! A black and white sporty job, fully automatic, shiny alloys and all the dashboard tech. The skipper was delighted and so was I, as we drove it back to the marina to carry out a rapid pack up for the next three days in the mountains. As I packed and prepared dinner, J tackled the engine problem. It seemed there was no diesel getting to the engine so he replaced the fuel filter, this had been done in MDR but he concluded it may be blocked. It started ok and we ran it for a while with no falters so hoped that was the end of it. It had taken three hours, a lot of mess and a lot of diesel fumes but the job was done and we sat down to a nice meal followed by my lemon ricotta cheesecake which was a triumph. A good team we concluded.

The next morning after a nice chat with our neighbour, a French gentleman in blue and white striped top, moustache and a tiny bulldog that he transported in the back pannier of his motor bike to his boat, we tidied up the boat and made it ready to be left for three days. It was a big job after all the engine workings but finally left the pontoon with bags packed, rucsacs with walking boots, bags of rubbish, bags of food and bottles of wine so we could save on eating out, dive air tank to be refilled and smiles on faces as we headed off for a mini adventure in the high hills. The drive was amazing, through thick Corsican pine forests then along narrow roads with death defying drops on the side up to Corte almost in the middle of the island. It seemed a little like a high Aviemore, full of campsites, outdoor shops and activity providers. The start of our chosen walk was only a few miles from here however the road to it was without doubt the scariest though most beautiful road I have ever been on. It was single track and resembled the road up to Steall Falls in Glen Nevis but it went on for an hour up and along the side of steep river gorge with rock cliffs and natural sculptures that were stunning. The road wound past a series of blind bends and under overhanging rock boulders, sneaked round the edge of towering pine roots and over bridges with no barriers and gushing snow melt water surging underneath. I was so glad when it reached the end at a remote dirt carpark at a refugio. We donned our boots, cagoules, rucsacs and hats and set off up the mountain track. It was a spectacular walk, tiny winding track that lead up though pine forest then out onto scrub and scree and over patchy snow fields before a steep ascent over rocky outcrops and slabs, some bolted with metal chains and ladders for access and finally topping out over a bealach to an iced over lochan. It was all white all around, the cloud so low and passing over it shrouded you in a total white out for a few minutes til the mountain winds blow if from your face and revealed a peaky landscape that was very reminiscent of Patagonia and Torres del Paine. And not a soul there, all to ourselves as we sat on a boulder and ate the bread and cheese we had brought. Blimey was it only this morning I had awoken in the cabin, diesel fumes making me nauseous, frantic packing, Damon Hill driving and now here I was sitting on a high mountain ridge, mist dampening my face, black crows soaring overhead no doubt waiting for the crumbs.

We made our way back down eventually, slowly, reluctantly, there seemed so much more to explore and enjoy but we were exhausted and the day was wearing on.

We found our Airbnb on the outskirts of Corte, after a series of detective like clues that Sherlock Ormiston deduced and succeeded in finding the key under a pine cone in the cupboard to the right of the third door of the second floor of the building! However it was a pleasant if quirky flat (the Christmas tree was still up!) all to ourselves and I revelled in having a kitchen to cook in, a stationary bed to sleep in, a washing machine to clean all the diesely clothes and then.., OMG .., a bath! As soon as dinner was dispatched, it was run to the brim and filled with half a bottle of the shower gel I had brought and I sank into it with a bliss ,that was, well bliss.

I made dinner while J attempted to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew but with much muttering about “How could it be a French apartment with no corkscrew!” He did eventually manage, determination winning out, but not after involving many old Scout’s tricks  with door hinges, knives, hot water, string, heels of shoes but oh the joy in his face when it finally succumbed! Adding to the delightful evening was a Facetime call from our youngest at Granny’s house and she was in raptures that she could see us while talking to us. Things we take for granted but to her it seemed like magic and it was a tonic to see her face light up, we promised to do more of this as it is easy if any of the young ones are around at her house.

The next day after cleaning up, leaving it better than we found it, we got the feeling this young couple had received our last minute booking and literally cleared out to a friend’s for the night as all their stuff was lying around including wet laundry, we headed east to do another of the Top 10 Hikes in Corsica I had researched. It was only a few miles away as the crow flies but it took 2 hours as we had to drive through the centre of the spectacular mountain range, tops and gullies still etched out in snow. We parked up at Col de Bavella, a high point on a ridge that the wind shrieked through. The walk took us through more beautiful mature pine woods and over pretty mountain streams and finally led to rocky outcrops on the ridge line that involved some minor scrambling.  To reach the famous feature Tombe de Coeur you had to climb down a small but steep rock step and I got bit freaked. I am used to do these things but my nerve went and I left the captain to go higher and peer through the imposing hole ion the rock that he said literally led to a sheer drop in a cliff face so I was glad I didn’t go! Bit of a frosty return walk as I felt bit humiliated and pressured, understandably ‘s patience is running thin as I know he is tired but I felt clumsy, old and stupid. However once back at the sporty car and a nice coffee at a wee village café we were friends again as we arrived at Casabianca this night’s Airbnb, again only booked the day before. We were hesitant as it was £18 for the night but as always decided it is only a bed for the night. Well, Quelle Surprise, without doubt the best Airbnb we have stayed in ever, period. Jules, a delightful fellow who lived two doors along, showed us in to his newly refurbished pied a terre, small with just a bedroom, shower room and kitchen diner but it was exquisite with so much attention to detail even J wandered round saying Wow regularly. The views over the Corsican hills and rolling fields were enchanting as we hung over the metal railing on the bedroom window. It was in the middle of nowhere, not even a café or bar but we had brought all our food so knocked up a nice meal and then had a big treat of watching TV in bed, accessorised by the warm mood and colour changing lighting!

The next day we reluctantly left as could easily have stayed a week at this treasure of a place but I knew J was concerned about the engine problems so we needed to get back and investigate everything was ok. Not after a morning visit to nearby thermal baths though which were pleasant but nothing like the Icelandic ones. We arrived back in Propriano and used the car to do a big supermarket shop then we set to with the diesel issue. J reckoned it was dirty diesel and decided to do a full change and clean. This involved him going to a nearby chandler/DIY store and buying fuel tanks, submersive pumps, tubing etc. I was sent out  to buy tights. Now I thought this would be a easy task. I giggled to myself as I remembered our first trip to Paris as teenagers and J wanted to buy me pretty French underwear, we found a suitable shop and I tired to explain what I wanted in my poor French at the time. The shop assistant finally got it and stated “Ah Oui, le long socks!!” well yes I guess they were and I felt quite the sophisticated lady in my “long socks” parading the Champs Elyse’s with a very happy fiancé! Anyway , the “long sock” fuel filter mission was impossible and I came back failed. We had to return the car so scooted back to the supermarket where I finally found some cheap tights and then we walked back to the boat to begin the huge smelly and dirty task of emptying 120l of diesel, filtering through the tights, treating it with biocide and replacing it. J had taken off the filling pipe too, cleaned the overflow valve and checked the fuel level instrument as well as pipes that lead to the engine. The fuel was indeed dirty and the intake pipe blocked with what looked like felt. It took hours and so much leaks, so much mopping up and degreasing, I felt sick and headachy. Poor J was worse as he had to suck out some diesel and was literally lying in puddles of it a times. Finally, it was done and after showers I headed out to get a pizza as I couldn’t face cooking.

We checked it in the morning and was still a leak so more repairs and fumes and mess until finally it seemed solved. I stood on the deck for a while clearing my head and getting fresh air as I glanced down to the water and couldn’t believe my eyes as a school of around 150 barracuda about a meter each in length glided by, occasionally flashing on their sides and showing a silver side with back chevrons and long slick jaws! We finally left Propriano with a slick of diesel after us and motored smoothly along the coast for a few hours to a calm anchorage where I prepared a lovely meal of Corscian lamb and all the trimmings but couldn’t eat it. I broke down and took to bed feeling awful. The immersion in diesel fumes,  lack of sleep, blocked sinuses, emotional instability all collided and I had to opt out for a night. Unfortunately my malaise lasted a couple of days, think it was a virus as I had no energy and felt worn out. We headed up to the Bay of Calvi with beautiful coastline, it looks like a chunk of the Alps has been carved out and dropped in the sea with these towering peaks covered in snow and hillsides that plunge down to the sea. My eldest called for a chat and it was such a tonic, we talked for ages about his work up in Speyside, he told me funny incidences with his work mates and plans for the future. He is  a great lad, honest, loyal, strong and a real individual. I laughed as he told me a recent incident on his contract when a large boulder had become dislodged somehow and had rolled down the hill and landed on the A9, luckily to no harm. However as site manager and senior geologist he was sent to investigate. It seemed unlikely it was the site work going on that had dislodged it but he told me he spent hours trailing up and down the Slochd summit looking for likely holes from whence the boulder had come. Now it was Easter weekend so the fact that a boulder had mysteriously rolled down a hill, leaving a hole or cave, I said he should look for a bearded man in his early 30’s wearing a long robe and palms outstretched! We have the same silly sense of humour.

The spring weather is improving but still such cold wind and the water is cold, phone calls back home told us the weather there was great and folks were sitting out in their gardens and hitting the beaches! It is also still a bit unpredictable and the sail round the coastline to Centuri kicked off a bit and I was glad to finally reach the anchorage. We dingied ashore for a wander but on the way a tiny songbird flew frantically around the dinghy until I noticed a mob of seagulls after it. Poor thing it didn’t stand a chance as more joined the chase and it disappeared as the gang dispersed. Ah well I suppose the gulls have chicks to feed too. We sat on the rocks and watched three young spearfishermen don their clobber and set off flopping around the rocky coves, I was concerned they might spear each other as seemed so close. It was lovely being able to pull off a few sprigs of fresh wild rosemary, as I am never very successful at growing it at home and I decided to do roast potatoes with them for tea.

After a restless night when I got up and wrote a “To Do” list as there seemed to be so much on my mind we sailed on to Isola Caprai where we dropped the anchor in a really cliffy cove with the sea slopping all around us. There were a few other boats there too but as the day wore on they left as alone. We took the plunge but the water is still so cold it really was a plunge and were quickly back onboard for a hot water rinse. That night we talked a few things through, we were tired and seemed to be on the go the whole time. It was intense and I felt a lot of family things building up that I wanted to deal with. I wondered if that is why not many adults do mature gap years as there are so many people depending on you as you have built up a network over the years and become part of something. As a young person you dont have those responsibilities and it easier to do things more for yourself and go off travelling for a year to fulfil your own desires. So we decided to head to Elba and spend a few days down time there.

Easter Sunday dawned after a noisy night with the chain rattling over the rocks beneath us and with no chocolate eggs I decided to make a mix of Scottish and Italian fry up which was a feast, including fried bread. We needed the energy though as the sail to Elba was a good six hours and unfortunately we had to motor quite a bit which is noisy and expensive though got us to Portoferraria in better time. There were moorings available so we hooked one up along with a few other boats , mostly German, in the wide bay just round from the town itself.

Some much needed days were spent dealing with personal admin, my hair roots needed attention, J got a hair cut though is trialing growing a beard to complete the salty sea dog look! Emails, downloading, writing, family matters etc were all ticked off and I felt much better. Elba was a delight, back to Italian culture so the coffee was amazing, cheaper meals and groceries and so stylish. We found a fabulous wee taverna off the tourist port side and enjoyed a nice meal of tuna, swordfish, anchovies and octopus for a reasonable price including Elba wine which was delicious. I had dressed up a bit, put on some make up and jewellery and hauled out some nice clothes from the locker so with my clean hair felt quite civilized wandering round the town. However all that changed as we dingied back as the wind had picked up and the waves were against as  I powered through them back to the boat as a big wave broke ahead of the bow just as the wind picked it up and hurled it straight over me just like the “Chewing the Fat – Lighthouse Keeper” sketch. I was drenched!

We sat out the stormy weather in the bay for three days, constant rain squalls, low cloud and strong winds that made the boat so noisy at night we slept in the lounge but managed to get a lot of personal things done and my stress levels lowered. Finally the weather broke and we were able to leave after calling in to the port to get water. While J filled the tanks I was sent to the marina office to pay the five euros and on the way back I decided to get a couple of takeaway Café Macchiatos, our last decent coffee before we hit Sardinia again. I popped into a delightful little tearoom carved into the fortified walls of the town and ordered two to go while I used the loos. When I returned the deliciously flamboyant barista, with a mop of curly hair like Marc Bolan tied in a  silk bandana at this forehead, had made the cutest tray of coffee I think I’ve  ever seen. There were two tiny, floral china cups on saucers with gold rims, a miniature silver teaspoon on each, two crystal sherry glasses with chilled water, a fresh flower held on the rim with a minature silver clothes peg and two linen napkins! I felt awful when I asked if he had no takeaway cups explaining my husband was on a  boat and was going to take them to him.

Oh no worries, just take” he said his eyes twinkling and smiling like a coy teenager. I tried to explain I couldn’t really carry the tray down the quayside so I drank one and took the other cup at his insistence saying I’d come back with it. He sang away to himself as he refilled the coffee machine’s water reservoir, and sighed to me that his machine is always thirsty for water as he is for love! I loved him! I took the captain his coffee and returned the china cup to the gentle man and he winked at me as he took it, saying something about looking after my man and the passion that would ensue!

Elba was lovely, the huge fort standing over the town where Napoleon was exiled but now was a museum and full of galleries and shops. I had been watching the series Narcos in the evenings and I mused at how the main character in it had built himself a castle or fort as a self-elected prison and furnished it with luxuries, I wondered if Bonaparte had similar comforts in his castle.

It was a blustery sail round to Fetovaia where we anchored for the night ready for a dawn departure back to Corsica, deciding it was better to do a long run down the east coast as there were little if any anchorages, so we left at 12 and I was on watch by 2am. It was not a comfortable passage, there were a lot of other ships initially and I got panicky about the huge cargo vessels that were on track to come a bit close but things eventually settled down and we arrived at San Cipriano late in the afternoon. It was our last night in French waters and we heard on the news that Notre Damme in Paris had been badly damaged in a fire. This was sad news but the reaction that followed was interesting. The French government immediately pledged millions to restore it a which caused an outcry amongst environmentalist who questioned why immediate funds and action were not funneled to prevent the destruction of nature’s cathedrals. It was very thought provoking. We see the damage to the environment daily, especially marine, as we live on it. The plastics that float by on the surface, the beaches with plastic washed up and the land with rubbish tips overflowing.  It did seem that priorities were wrong. It was awful of course the church had been damaged but it can be rebuilt, unlike the rain forests and coral reefs, the glaciers and wild places that we all worship and that feed our souls.

Silent Spring


“.., It is an equilibrium

which breasts the cresting seasons but still stays calm

and keeps warm. It deserves a good name.

Weathering. Patina, gloss and whorl.

The trunk of the almond tree, gnarled but still fruitful.

Weathering is what I would like to do well.

From “Weathering”  Alastair Reid

The head lights were coming straight for us, the nose of the plane pointing at our midships.

SY at position..,, this is the Italian Air Force, you are in danger. Please leave this area immediately

J checked his position and it was not us however he could not see any other yachts around so ascertained it must be us they were trying to reach, so called the Air  Force back on the  radio and asked for more details. Well it was us, does not say much for the accuracy of their positioning techniques however we were not going to argue! We complied with orders as the plane scanned back and forth over our route, nothing charted on our maps but seemed there was an underwater training exercise in place and we had inadvertently entered temporarily restricted waters. Again! We complied, of course, and had to increase speed to full, which on a sailing yacht under motor is not really that fast and maintain a heading for an hour or so then we were given permission to enter port at Arbatax, Sardinia.

All we need now is the Army and we have the hat trick” declared the skipper.

I could do without that and was glad to be back in Sardinia, the beautiful coastline so unspoilt and picturesque. One of the first things that hit me, as we neared the coast, was the fragrant smell, I remembered it from the autumn sail there, sage, honey, cedar, herbs. It is something I am more acutely aware of after being at sea for a while, as soon as we hit land my senses are overloaded especially the smell. I notice peoples’ aftershave, perfume, fabric softener, cigarette smoke and shops smell strong of cleaning fluid, markets of fish and bakeries of sugar and yeast. At sea you just smell the sea. Of course, the cooking smells in the galley and unfortunately the heads at times and I do have a particularly strong sense of smell, like my mother. The kids could never get away with any sly fag puffs, or worse, as I always smelt it on their clothes or hair. I sometimes think I’m a white witch as I recall a day walk on the Sleat peninsula on Skye when the boys were young and the lovely pine forest we were walking through were in the first flush of spring, with the verdant green of larch lighting up the winter weary woodlands, when I suddenly smelt banana. Yes banana. I asked if anyone had brought one along and no, there was no bananas as they looked at me as if I was crazy,  when a few meters on we rounded a corner on the track and there on the path was a banana skin.

Arbatax was lovely, low key little port with a large industrial side to it which somehow was not invasive. We managed a laundry and a full shower before wandering along the coastal path and found a perfect little seaside taverna with fresh calamari on the menu. Sardinia offers so much and is a well-kept tourist secret. It has it all, unspoilt pink sand beaches that rim wide open bays with turquoise waters, shady woodlands with scented pines, pretty towns and villages clean and tidy with a rustic charm, mountains that would be a walkers paradise and simple but delicious food that is all about the ingredients and less about the jus and coulis. We definitely felt there was unfinished business for us here as we sailed the coastline and made a mental note to return one day and foray inland.

Leaving Sicily had been bittersweet, it had been a wonderful winter but having explored other islands and countries, it lacks the care and effort that the others seem to display. The friendliness of the people make up for this and there are some amazing places on the large island but crossing back to Sardinia felt refreshing. Though the initial part of the journey was anything but. I had patched up for the sail thinking that five months tied up might throw my head into a seasick spin, however by day two at sea I was feeling worse than ever. It was heavy seas and we were beating in and I was so ill. I decided to come off the meds and within a day felt much better, I continued cold turkey ever since to no ill effect, so concluded my body must have adjusted to living on water and with a little careful management I was better without the tablets or patches. After that, the sail along the Sicilian coastline was pleasant, the weather was mixed as we were still in early spring so was changeable and I was surprised how cold it was. I concluded it would be a while yet before the basking in the sun after a cool dip, was to resurrect. There were a few seabirds around, not sure whether they were migratory, some kind of shearwater and once a small bird hitched a ride on the rigging seemingly glad of the rest before bobbing off across the water to goodness knows where. However there seemed a lack of birds around in general, in contrast to at home where they are evident in every habitat, we take a lot for granted living in Scotland and I now realise how lucky we are with so much wildlife to enjoy.

We anchored where we could along the coast at Licatta and Agrigento but the suitable areas are few and far between so when we arrived at Sciatta we took a berth in the small marina for a break, fill up with water and get shopping.   The friendly marinara, after checking us in, offered us a lift up to the old town, we gladly took it as it was up a long series of steep stone stairs and pouring with rain. We jumped inside his fancy car and then were let off at the town piazza, empty in the grey rain. We ambled around the square and looked down at the wee port below, Stravaigin safely tied up, when I asked J where his rucsac was, the one containing all the boat documentation, drivers’ licences and passports? A look of horror came over his face as he declared “In his car!”

Ok action stations. We knew he worked at the marina so should be ok to get it in the morning once he comes to work, however, would he come to work?  It might be his day off? Likely he didn’t know the bag was lying on the back seat along with his kids toys and jackets, maybe his wife would take the car for the day? It was all too tenuous so we decided to try to get his number and call him, he had said he lived in the town so could not be far away. We called the office but no reply. We called various numbers we had but no reply. Nothing for it we had to march down the stairs, back to the office in the rain and hope someone was still there. Alas no. All in darkness, no one around. Except a guy in his car in the otherwise empty carpark. I took a chance and went over and asked if he worked for the marina? Luckily yes and after I tried my best in very poor Italian and much gesticulating, he knew the guy! He called him straight away and told us he would be down with the bag after his dinner, about 20 minutes. Praise the lord! Luckily there was a trendy little quay side bar just along the wharf so we ordered a glass of wine and sure enough 20 minutes later the skipper appeared back from the  agreed rendezvous point with rucsac on back and a huge , but sheepish, smile on face.

After another anchorage at Mazal Del Volle, we returned to Favignana, our port in the Egadi Islands on the way out last year. It was quieter and the prison guards had a bigger boat, maybe business was booming, and we managed to hike up to the top of the island to visit the old fort and picnicked in glorious sunshine, out of the cold wind. We anchored again in Calla Rotunda but no swimming this time though J did snorkel in his wet suit to clean the prop just as the coast guard called in to check us out. We treated ourselves to the best gelatos again but I suffered, my own fault choosing one with Dolce Leche and chocolate and having had my gall bladder removed as an emergency a few years ago I am supposed to cut back on the fat, however I don’t always, so suffer the pain instead.

Being over 50, for a woman sucks. Plain and simple, everything changes and deteriorates, eyesight, hearing, strength, shape, stamina, energy, mood, the lot. Great for living on a boat.

And yet I like living on a boat so I put up with what I can and when it gets too much I just have to admit defeat and give in for a while.

So I took my ailments and moans, with me as we set off finally from Sicily on the overnight crossing to Sardinia, boat stocked with fresh food and water and I practised with the new navigation instruments in the daylight before darkness fell and the watch system started.

It was a beautiful crossing, settled weather, uneventful save a few shooting stars, one that made me duck as it seemed so low!  Just after my 3am watch started I was joined by three dolphins in the dark, their bodies glowing, their slip stream like the tails of comets as the phosphorescence in the water lit it up, looking like blue white streams under the surface. I was entranced and had to remind myself to check the AIS system occasionally that warns of other vessels in our area. This little family group stayed with me all night for six hours even once it got light, I sat on the bow just watching them and they would turn their heads every now and again and our eyes met, magical. Then they just go. The morning heralded Mother’s Day and I felt a bit down and very out of it. We were at sea so there was no phone reception and I could not speak to my mum or mum-in-law, though I had left cards for them and ordered flowers. It is without doubt the worst part of being away, missing family and friends. That feeling was brought even closer when my middle son called once we had reception to say our “number 4 son” as we call Stew, our crew mate on the Biscay crossing, had lost his dad suddenly. We were heart broken for the lad, he and his dad were close and he had shown us with pride on the crossing, the beautiful handmade wooden sea kayak his dad had made him and he was in the process of making him a wooden canoe. The mood onboard changes when we get news like this and things are quiet for a while.  It felt good to finally speak to all my boys once we arrived in Sardinia and reception pinged back.

After the Air Force welcome to the island and Arbatax, we enjoyed a few lovely quiet anchorages at Orosei and San Teodoro, reveling in the pretty coastline, even the architecture is noticeable by it not being noticeable! The houses are low and roofs contour with the land, the building materials match the colour of the rock so it is hard to see the villages at times, peeking through the trees and shrubs. We tied up alongside the town quay at Olbio, a very pretty port town, famous for its mussel farms in the gulf and so of course went off to sample them in a seaside restaurant. They were good but not Mull’s Loch Spelve good. We enjoyed a lovely day ashore and I even found a designer outlet on the quayside and came away with three items for E30, two dresses and a top, very happy! Also found a great supermarket so stocked up including buying a shopping trolley which we should have done last year as makes the groceries run a lot easier. I remembered my Mum’s wicker one that Dad made for her out of a walking stick, log basket and two scooter wheels!  She pulled it through the Botanic Gardens to Byres Rd in Glasgow and returned with it brimming with fresh meat, vegetables and bread. That was before she could drive and was one of the reasons, I am sure she determinedly took her test six times before finally passing and could then drive to the supermarket!

I proudly prepared and cooked the fresh sardines and squid we had bought in town and they were delicious, out on deck with a chilled local wine, life is good. The next anchorages were delightful at Calla de Bolte and Cala Coticcio, little coves with a few tasteful villas nestled into the coast, high quality but not showy. I even managed a swim in one sheltered cove but it was cold especially when coming out the water as the wind was chilly.  We cruised up the Costa Smeralda, well known for its beauty and expensive yacht marinas especially Porto Cervo built by Prince Aga Khan where billionaires keep their yachts, it was stunning but we decided not to go in to gawp at the posh toys and headed for an anchorage just north of it and saw our first glimpse of the dark and rugged skyline of Corsica.

The Maddalena Islands, just off the north coast of Sardinia, are a national park and marine wildlife reserve, there were plenty anchorages and we chose a delightful one by chance, Cala Coticcio, on Isola Caprera. It turned out it was the poster picture for all the tourist brochures and we could see why. As we motored in we noticed a fishing buoy but not the other end as usual and as I went up to the bow to get ready to anchor I suddenly saw the other end attached to the rocks with tiny floats and we were directly over the net! This can mean a variety of things, we rip the net, the rope fouls our propeller and at best tangles it, at worst rips it off and the boat sinks! I yelled to J to stop the engine, just in time and we had only caught the top rope under our keel. We slowly managed to reverse but the net was caught under the bulb on the end of the keel so gently we allowed ourselves to drift towards the visible fishing buoy that has a tall plastic pole attached to it and I could grab it, haul onboard with its weights attached , pull it across the deck and slowly we drifted back and could see the net all on one side and free of our keel. We then dropped it on the other side, once we had hauled it across the bay to a safe distance that we and no other boat would get fouled in it again!

Drama averted we picked up a mooring buoy and poured the sailor’s remedy, a stiff rum! It was a lovely cove, pink granite like at Tinker’s Hole off Erraid back home and we dinghyied ashore for a good scramble along the rock and up to a high vantage point to see the boat and the blue seas all around. I was in charge of dinghying as I am not very good, I find it large and unwieldy and with my dyscalculia I struggle with directions and coordination, however I persevered and improved at berthing and manoeuvring the large rubber beast. I needed to master it before we hit Corsica as I may have to be deployed in it to secure us to mooring lines hung off a cliff in Bonifacio or we might literally “hit” Corsica!

As evening wore on the feral goats forayed along the rocky shoreline, horns locking in play fight, one female lying on a rocky ledge, her eyes closed and face raised to the warmth of the setting sun, not a bad life.

All changed overnight though as the swell set in and the wind picked up. We were not too sure about the safety of the mooring line so stayed up into the night watching movies and keeping a watch. It finally blew over enough to allow us to get to bed but I felt like a sausage lying on a handkerchief with a someone holding each corner and rolling me from one side to the other and back again – all night! As soon as it was light we headed off and had breakfast underway and found a sheltered calm bay to anchor and recover. The final night in Sardinia and in fact Italy, for now, was spent in Maddalena town, a pretty port and we tied up at the fuel berth awaiting a marina official to book us in however no one appeared so we stayed the night for free.

The next day we wandered into this pretty holiday seaside resort, finding a market on the pier with fresh fish and wine by the draft. We purchased a large whole tuna and took our empty water bottles to be filled with delicious wine for E3.70 a litre. To be honest I wasn’t in the mood for cooking a whole fish but steaked some of it and made some chips to go with it. I didn’t enjoy it but J did so that was fine. The rest I baked whole with curry spices and I enjoyed it a bit better, even more so mixed with mayonnaise and fresh pineapple for lunch the following day. I felt a bit down, I’d had a virus for a couple of days and was just a bit off and realised I was a bit travel weary as well. I was missing home.  I had been calling family and they were telling me how lovely it was back home with Spring showing our west coast off to its best. My favourite time, fresh green nettles shooting through perfect for soup, wild garlic blooming great for pestos, primroses lighting up the woods round the house and the song birds waking me up each morning. I was weary of moving on each day and the restrictions of living in a space the same as my lounge at home. I tried hard to remember this time was running out fast and I must enjoy every day as it is a fantastic experience but occasionally I gave into a teary whine for my wooden home and my large cosy bed.

My mood seemed like the seas and spring weather, ever changing, some days smooth and calm, some days flat and dull, other days stormy and edgy. It was all part of this adventure and I, and the captain, just had to ride through it, quietly.

Shore Leave


There’s a dizzy drop in the saline swirl

as if the drunken tide spit the foam

at your feet; this is where

you feel the shore shift

if you stand still and look to the ground,

the horizon . Keep moving:

better pleasures lie ahead –

four hundred or more taverns

(one for every ten men)

will ensure you straighten

your crooked sails.

Climb back onboard under the stars,

look up – slow the movement

of the earth to a slumber.

Shore Leave    Kate Garrett

I only hoped none of my outdoor leadership students would ever find out about this. I am wading thigh high in deep snow drifts, my cotton ankle socks soaked, my jeans wet and muddy, my cotton floral top tucked into them, layered over by a thin woollen “going out” cardigan and a cotton scarf wrapped twice round my neck to keep out the biting cold wind. At least I have a cagoul, or hard shell as the pros call it now and decent trail shoes. We are pushing on towards the summit ridge of a range of hills in the Madonie Mountains, the winds are shrieking down the exposed face but luckily we are in the lee at the moment. We shelter in a small woodland, spring run off making the ground sodden and eat a snack of oranges, strawberries and cheese we had brought.

“I don’t think it is a good idea to continue onto the plateau, it’ll be in the full force of the wind” states J.

“And it is getting close to losing the day light and we’ve still a couple of hours to go “ I rationalise.

We nod, laugh and head back the way we came, down a scree slope punctuated by juniper scrub, back across the snow drifts and finally onto the path that leads down the mountain and finally back to the warmth of the car. It was a beautiful area though and one we wished we had more time to explore but as the lights of the village perched on the hilltop across the valley peeped on we knew we’d made the right decision. We had checked into a last minute bed and breakfast in Pollizi Generosa, a little village in the Madonie Mountain National Park and I had found a couple of nice walks to do before we were to head to Palermo for a night. The wee room was warm and I stood in the hot shower for ages rewarming before getting dressed for dinner which we were going to find in the village. J was changed and warm again too and we poured the last of the wine we had brought with us into the plastic B and B cups. Once these had taken effect we simultaneously said “Can’t be bothered going out” and we ate the leftovers of last night’s cold pizza while watching Italian soap opera on the tiny bedroom TV and promptly fell asleep.

Since returning to Sicily from home and after a delightful week’s ski break in the Italian Alps, we had spent the time cleaning, sorting, repairing, shopping, mending, fixing, stocking, stowing and generally getting the boat ready for the oncoming sailing season and return journey home, we were finally running out of things to do. We decided to hire a car as it would be useful to stock the boat up with dry goods, refill the gas bottle and we decided to do a bit more sight seeing of the island before we left. This proved to be a great idea though nearly didn’t happen as the captain had pre-booked a car online and headed off on the 5am bus from the marina to Catania airport to collect it, a 3 hour bus ride. He calls me awake at 8am once he had arrived,

I don’t have my passport and they won’t let me hire the car without 2 forms of I.D. I have until 11am to get the passport or they will cancel our booking and we will lose the money prepaid”

Oh jeez, I leapt out of bed and promptly got on the Net radio that the liveaboards broadcast on every morning, enquiring if anyone happened to be going to Catania – like now – and be able to give me a lift?

By luck a lovely German lady and her kids were just leaving and offered me a seat. I practically ran over to her boat, dressing as I went and helped her organise  two sleepy, disheveled kids into her hired car that she was swapping over, along with scooters and rucsacs and just as we were setting off and luckily just in time to meet the 11am deadline, she announced,

Oh look I have my slippers on!” She insisted she had to change and I sat in the car with her two children arguing in German while she ambled off down the pontoon, our prepaid booking following her into the distance. Oh well, we did get to the airport some hours later, by some miracle though as she drove even more erratically and faster than the Italians, eating her lunch, turning up the radio stating her 4yr old daughter loves The Who but only when loud, while overtaking and negotiating hairpin bends!  The booking gone but J managed to re-book for same deal which was pretty good and we finally got the car.  We were just buying a drink for the journey when we saw the German mum and kids and scooter and bags shuffling along the pavement looking dejected,

“Are you ok?”

“Zay von’t let me hire de car, I was supposed to exchange de car but I don’t have enough money on my credit card! I don’t vant to use that company and my husband vill have to sort it out. I vill get the bus back!”

Well the bus wasn’t due until 4pm so into our tiny Fiat Panda they all climbed and we took them back to MDR, a stop for ice cream and cookies to placate the children who had been promised cinnamon buns from Ikea, their bribe for a 6 hour round road trip. Her son Matti groaned,

“Grown ups, zay are stupid!”


Our days out included a lovely day trip to Modica, the heart of Italian chocolate making, an art apparently brought over by the Aztecs and indeed it was delicious stuff. Made only with cocoa beans and sugar it was made at low temperatures so kept its form even in fairly warm temperatures as it contained no fats or milk. It was grainy but pure and went well with a café expresso. Another day was spent at Cava Grande, a spectacular gorge forging its way to the sea. We were properly equipped for this hike and spent a fabulous day walking the traverse trail along the cliff side with views down to the  green waters of the meandering river below and across to the steep rock slopes with the goats appearing to walk effortlessly up the cliff face. Spring was on its way and many wild flowers were beginning to bloom, bird song creating a sound track to the walk and fresh growth was appearing all around. We realised we still had a couple of days left before we needed to hand the car back so decided to take a road trip to the north and visit Palermo the capital, a city I had heard a lot about and wanted to see and was not sure if we would call in on the sail round. I messaged my ex student who was from there to ask about recommendations for a decent place to stay and was delighted when he replied he was flying in from Iceland the very day we intended to be there so we arranged to meet up for dinner and long overdue catch up.  We left the Madonie Mountains and drove the hour and half to Palermo.

Palermo was not quite what I expected. It had an interesting North African feel to it with a large area of open air food markets selling everything from week old lamb carcasses to strawberries and huge ugly fish. Unfortunately the streets were dirty and fouled with dog poo, derelict buildings next to beautiful fountains and cathedrals and litter everywhere. I had expected chic cafes, pretty fresh food markets, fancy hotels and restaurants but it seemed tired and run down. Maybe just out of season. We did the “touristy” things and saw the cathedrals and piazzas and markets and ate some street food that was mediocre at best and even down at the marina we were disappointed by the shabbiness.

However the highlight was meeting up with Francesco and Pietro, his friend, whom we had met in Iceland at new year. We met both guys’ parents and over conversational Italian and English spent a lovely evening sharing stories of Frankie’s times at college and Icelandic adventures. The only down side was we were looking forward to a typical Sicilian meal however it turned out to be pizza and was the third night in a row we’d had it. I mean I like pizza but essentially it is a sandwich with no top on.

We left the next day for Catania to hand the car back, after a promised retail break at the designer outlet near Enna. I was allocated half an hour so sped off like a greyhound out its trap and “did” Armani, Prada, Gucci and Versace, however I had to giggle at myself when I perused Dolce and Gabbana, the perfectly groomed and gorgeous shop assistant greeting me at the door and promptly pointed me to the sale rail. Well I don’t blame her, sales assistants can read their clientele pretty well, there I was, hair sun bleached and dried out , not seen scissors in months, trekking trousers and trail shoes on and not a brush of makeup, I’ve gone feral. However I was not deterred, my mother always told me,

Never shy away from going into any shop or trying anything on. They are just stalls selling their wares and you are the customer”

Oh well, I took a couple of “half price” things into the changing room, bigger than most of the Airbnbs we stayed in and changed into the designer garments, flicking the sand off my feet first. Hmm, nice but not nice enough and half price was still a small fortune. I am sure the captain was relieved when I arrived back at the car with no bags.

No issues at the car hire thankfully after the start of the proceedings and we boarded the bus back to MDR, a warm Arancine for our picnic and I leant against the window watching the countryside speed by. My one wish for Sicily is to be able to clean itself up. The roads are lined with rubbish, every layby is piled high with fly tipping and every town is strewn with rubbish and every beach littered with plastic. I don’t really know the cause of this as I have also never seen so many recycling bins placed everywhere. Rumours were the Mafia controlled the refuse collection but I don’t know the truth in that. It spoils the pretty island and I am sure more tourists would visit and stay longer if it were cleaned up. It needs a change in culture too, every café serving coffee – and that is every cafe – also serves accompanying water in a single use plastic cups, the light type that blows off the table as soon as it is emptied. The island is practically coated in plastic too as vast expanses are poly tunnels for salad vegetables, thin plastic covers the tunnels and readily rips at the first tear on a rusty nail and the winds shriek across the flat island regularly so ripping and shredding the huge areas of plastic until it is wrapped round trees, cactus and street lamp until finally finding its way into the sea that surrounds the island. They are trying, each town had water fountains that you buy a card for and top up your bottles rather than buying plastic bottles at super markets but I didn’t see many folk using this facility. At least the open air food markets had fresh produce in wooden boxes and many shoppers bring their own canvas bags to put their purchases in.  We did what we could at the marina and persuaded the marina café to use glasses for the water instead of plastic which they did but I’m not sure they will continue this once the busy tourist season starts. We separated all our refuse and used the recycling bins placed at the marina entrance however it seemed a bigger problem. I could not figure it out as the people are delightful, intelligent, thoughtful people, maybe it is up to the young generation to change the culture and promote a positive change.

Back onboard we managed a couple of social nights with fellow cruisers and shared great tales of high seas adventures of far off places, some encouraged me, some put me off!

Then we decided it was time to go. Sicily had been our temporary home for four and half months, we have never lived anywhere other than Scotland for so long and it had a special place in our hearts but the sea and straviaging was calling and we were keen to head off again. I mused that the original meaning of the  US navy shore leave usually existed of drinking to excess, indulging in pleasures not readily available onboard the all male navy ships of old and many crew members deserted leaving their captain to search the docks for new crew at short notice, well at least I had survived all that! I may have indulged in rather fine Sicilian wine bought at a  mini market for E2.70 per 1.5 l, quite enjoyed my all (solo) male crew and though there were times desertion was tempting we had ridden out the passing storms successfully. Stravaigin was fully repaired, a shiny new anchor hung off the repaired rollers, the instruments were working and the entrance channel was declared deep enough for us finally  to get out safely so we bid our farewells and Monday 25th March at 10am we departed Marina di Ragusa, headed out the southerly channel slowly then pointed the bow to starboard. We were westering home.

Northern Sagas

Loosened feathers slowly fell on Kristjana’s tufted quilt,
smallish fingers curled softly wrapping silk as she slept. 
Drifts and rolls of undulate slumbers 
under haloed day-like night sky
In Iceland’s Elliðaárdalur valley near Reykjavik, 
closed elven eyes.

Kristjana’s dream, a whimsical flight on puffin wings,
his tuxedo plumage beating speed orange-red beak
sonar soared homing swift to Atlantic shores hastening.
Over reindeer, mink, rabbits and foxes asleep under sassafras, 
over gnarly birch trees they’d fly. To save sailor’s lives, 
tell them “stay in”, a storm approaches.

Descends midst seaman yowling, throwing ropes, 
growling on trawler, spitting out.
Off briny moss rocks the anchor rises, 
chains clinkety-clink, ebbs rippling flappers.
Seafarers fineries fisherman of northern lights,
pointed Atlantic outward, for open seas.

For a full-net catch of cod, haddock and pollock.
Never heard her elf warnings, seaman hearing rich cat-calls only.
Nudges puffin’s forehead, Kristjana flight grips puffin in preparation. 
Storms billigerent waves, turned em’ sideways, mast cracked, as ship sank deep.
Tears trickled Kristjana’s cheek, as a puffin feather lightly tickled and woke her from her sleep.

Kristjana’s Flight from Myths and Legends Series. S Blake Horton

The weeks passed, the winter hung over me with cold mornings and dark nights. Daily visits to Mum were spent caring and organising, social work discussions, medical conversations, occupational therapy assessments and keeping life going in as normal way as possible. Returning home at night I was always met with cheery conversation from our temporary lodgers, fire on in the lounge and welcome food prepared and shared. There was so much uncertainty, so much reliance on me, I angsted over what the future would be. Making use of the unexpected time at home I met up with many friends and family and enjoyed their company for walks, coffees, lunches and dinners. Mum grew a little stronger each day though her diagnoses were worrying. A stroke, a fractured spine and blood cancer, but still she battled on, though she looked each year of her ninety lived. It was difficult pressing the social services for the care she deserved and was entitled to, I had to develop a thick skin and state I was not living here currently but in Italy, to move her up the list because as long as I was caring for her, they would not put her care package in place. I recalled the tough times my parents must have had with my brother with special needs, when they could no longer care for him at home and how hard it must have been to get the right care for him. They had sheltered much of this difficult time from me though I was aware of the stresses they were under. Dark times indeed.

Back from our Italian road trip, the next few days aboard were short and busy. We couldn’t get a flight back home until Boxing day and as our eldest son and his wife were happy to use our home to host Christmas for Granny too, we decided to book ourselves a Christmas away and found a last minute deal in a converted abbey in norther Sicily near Cefalu. We packed our bags, closed up the boat and drove to the north coast enjoying the internal Sicilian landscape as we passed. I stared nonchalantly out the window of our hired Fiat, as we sped along the motorway until I noticed a huge plume of grey smoke, towering high in the sky, from the west.

“Hmm don’t think that’s a cloud” I said “Maybe Etna has gone up” I joked.

It had, a new eruption from a side fissure had released a giant ash cloud high in the sky and we later heard that some areas on the hillside had to be evacuated. Hope our flights home will be ok I thought, recalling the hugely disruptive Islandic eruption some years previously.

Arrival at the Abbey Anastasia was lovely, large monastery on a hillside set within its own vineyards,  it was a real treat after basic Airbnb conditions.  Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were a very different experience from our usual chaotic but traditional family bash at the lodge. No present wrapping, no decoration making, no stocking filling, no cooking but it was lovely to be catered for and we enjoyed it all. Though I did miss family a lot, we had not had a Christmas without at least one of them since before they were born. Luckily flying home on Boxing day was unaffected though we had to take an unusual path on take-off to stay under the ash cloud.

Being home and seeing all the family was great, a late Christmas dinner, half the price courtesy of the reduced Christmas produce was cooked and enjoyed and we relaxed into the usual Christmas routine of day walks then films with cheese and wine nights. All too soon we were packing again, this time with thermal winter gear, sleeping bags and dehydrated food, canny Scots off to Iceland to visit our youngest son who was working there temporarily over his University holidays.

It was yet another ambition realised as I had wanted to visit this fascinating country for a long time and sat excitedly on the Easyjet flight staring out the window at the land fast approaching from the northern Atlantic Ocean, glad I was warm and dry in the cabin rather than sailing there as had been suggested some time previously.

The cold hit us as the we stepped out onto the airplane stairs and we clambered down clutching our cabin bags, stuffed as full as we could get with warm clothes and food. We found our way to the car hire company and stood in front of our 2 seat Renault Kangoo van, with looks of resignation on our faces. When I had asked our son about what to hire, he had suggested this and I was sceptical about his reply when I told him we had actually booked one.

Ah right, well it’ll be fine – up to a point” I’m not sure exactly where that point was?

It will be fine” stated the captain as we opened the back doors revealing a double mattress taking up the entire back of the tiny van.

It has a heater” he smiled at me “More than we had in the tent in Nepal or Patagonia

Very true I thought, it will be fine.

And indeed, it was, we definitely felt like middle aged teenagers, camping out of our van, just lacking the pumping tunes and empty cans rattling around the foot wells. We drove to the outskirts of Reykjavik finding an empty car park right by the coast and feeling it was out the way enough, parked up, dressed in as many layers as we could find and walked the 30 minutes into to town to the church square where the firework display was to take place at midnight heralding a new year. However, the fun had already started as soon as it had got dark and fireworks were flying off everywhere! We made it miraculously for 11:45 outside Hallgrimskirkja and joined the huge crowd dressed in bulky layers and as much as sequined accessories as they could find. Within minutes the scene resembled a war zone, the noise and explosions were indiscriminate and I hid behind a stone statue of Leif Erikson, though the expression on his face suggested I am on my own. We survived a couple of hours before wandering our way back, shell shocked, through construction sites and across grey gravelly roads to the car park and clambered into the van, diesel heater on. We settled down for the rest of the night, stars over head and peace ,save the occasional bang of a distant rocket, until a short while later we were woken abruptly by the van being rocked and loud shouting.

“Oh God we are being attacked by Vikings “I exclaimed.

The captain mustered up bold and brave actions and then said “Ignore them and they’ll go away”

Well they did eventually, after consuming copious cans of, very expensive, lager, much arguing between themselves and swearing in Icelandic then hugs and apologies and promises to be friends forever, they leapt into cars and sped off finally leaving us in peace.

Light peeping through the rudimentary curtains of the van heralded morning and I pulled them apart expecting the same empty car park to find it was full and there were people wandering around wrapped in towels and wearing fancy dress. Iceland was indeed a strange place! It turned out we had parked in the carpark of Reykjavik University and New Year’s day brought the dookers same as our home tradition, although these swimmers were extreme, walking barefoot through the snow and  into the Arctic Sea! Only the geothermal pools conveniently situated further up the beach gave their antics any form of sanity.

We were completely unprepared for this week in this land of ice and fire, it was a snatched opportunity wedged into our sailing voyage and allowed us to spend time with our youngest while visiting this fascinating island, taking advantage of our son’s knowledge of the place we were not sure we’d get a chance like this again. I had previous students gain work placements with adventure companies here and indeed had now been given permanent jobs in this rapidly expanding adventure tourist industry, so I hoped to visit them too. We had flown over with our son’s girlfriend and her sister who had rented a small cabin near his base and we arranged to meet up in a day’s time when he had some time off too. He had messaged us with some recommendations, as had a colleague who had spent a lot of time guiding and photographing this beautiful landscape, so we followed their advice and soon found ourselves in an unique geographical area, amazed to see the contrasts of black volcanic rock next to white snow, white foam capped seas surging over black ash beaches and herds of stocky hairy ponies, their backs turned to the incessant winds. I was enthralled. We parked up in a dirt carpark at the foot of snowy covered hills and decided to take a night hike up to some geothermal pools we had been told about. It was simply beautiful walking up the track, dressed warmly, clear skies overhead and stillness all around. The walk was to take around two hours however as it wound higher up, the path became icy and after a few slips we decided the better of it and returned to the van, planning to return with proper gear next time. Passing literally boiling pools on the way down, looming out of the fog reaffirmed our decision.

The next day we were to rendezvous at the glacier guides base to meet our son and the girls and head to the glacier to be guided on a walk there. It was a fabulous and poignant day spent with our youngest, it was so pleasing to see him grown, mature and knowledgeable with skills and confidence gained over a year working there previously. Still the same humorous kid though with a wide trusting smile, long legs scarred at the ankle from adventures in South America and that wink he gives me with a flick of his fingers that crack me up every time. Spending time with my sons is the greatest pleasure I have in life and I pledged to do more of this once back. I was slightly nervous clambering through the gullies formed by the ice in the glacier, climbing up steps cut by the guides that morning and marvelling at the blueness of the ice, tiny bubbles caught under the surface like a Caithness glass paperweight. Streaks of black captured in the ice, ash from previous volcanic eruptions, prisms of refracted colours rainbowed when struck by an axe releasing the pressure and distorting the light. As a geographer I was delighted to see these processes at work right in front of my eyes, to touch this ancient ice, to hear the tumbling of rock from a newly scoured face, to feel the smooth face of the glacier as it melts, all too quickly, at the edge creating an icy lagoon, the one my son had plunged into on new years day. The bravery or folly of youth but I couldn’t help admire his vitality. This had been a special day and as we put away the crampons and ice axes I felt privileged to have explored this beautiful place with him.

That evening was spent at the guides’ base and my former student had cooked up a banquet of a meal for us which we enjoyed along with the rest of the team. It was a delightful evening of camaraderie and stories, sharing tales of travels, adventure, family and confessions from my students of their times at college with me as their tutor. I loved these young people, so much energy, enthusiasm, dreams shining from their faces, experiences waiting to come, ambitions some they will not realise but many I hope they will. Loving this year off as I was, I still was looking forward to returning to my job as I love the immersion in this time of these students lives and I gain just as much from them as I hope they do from me. The fact that my two younger sons have made friends for life with some of my students too, by working in the same industry, is a bonus. I thought of my eldest too, now an experienced and valued geologist, leading a team and using his skills and knowledge gained through his university course and perhaps also from his time spent in the Arctic on a four month expedition on the ice in Svalbard. It all seemed connected and meant to be.

The following days were packed with mini adventures, walks in pouring rain to huge waterfalls, wanders up steep sided gorges, drives to the coast to watch the huge Atlantic swells break on the stark coastline.  We returned to the “hot river” location, this time armed with crampons and made it successfully to the high corrie where the river sources and is heated to a pleasant bath temperature. It was surreal lying in the shallows in our swimmies, snow and ice all around and seeing our bare foot prints in the snow on the banks as we climbed out. We visited the “Diamond Beach” which was beautiful and witnessed a proposal, apparently a common event but none the less lovely, it was being filmed by an enthusiastic Japanese friend so I hope she said yes!

Van parked up in remote places, peeping out the curtains at night in the hope of seeing the Aurora but it was very cloudy and it eluded us. It was a great plan to bring our own food as it was so expensive and we cooked on the little stove every night, it was fun and definitely a contrast to living on the boat. We found amazing locations just off the tourist trail and saw the edge of the ice sheet pouring over the mountains tops and glaciers coming down to a dammed lake, icebergs strewn at its foot.

Our youngest and his girlfriend made a lovely and welcomed gesture by booking us into a bed and breakfast for a night, taking pity on the old dears in a camper van i think, and we had  a lovely night with a couple of missionaries living in a small village. The ex-Scot wife made us waffles for breakfast and we scooped Skyr on top with strawberry jam grown that previous season in the ubiquitous polytunnels heated and UV lit, by geothermally generated electricity. We had interesting chats on what brought them to Iceland, although she was a nurse and he an engineer, it was their faith that brought them north. They were kind people, J realised he had left his walking boots at the glacier base and she insisted her husband would collect them on his way home from work.

Its nothing, its what we island folk do, help each other out” A lovely sentiment and interesting sense of identification as this “island” though only half the land mass of the British Isles, might have more to do with the amount of people living there, just over 300,000 compared to our 67 million.

The final day we had parked up in an empty carpark on a high tundra plateau in the middle of nowhere but within one of the many National Parks, the northern light forecast was fair so we were hopeful. It was bitterly cold night and we heated up the rest of the waffles, accompanied by some Drambuie to warm us and settled down for the night. We kept parting the curtains in the vain attempt to see a display but nothing so we gave up, and pulled 4 layers over us.

Not long after I was aware of an engine noise and we decided it was snow plough clearing the roads until it seemed to stop next to us. I could hear muffled voices very close and was conscious of bodies brushing against the outside of the van. I peeped out the front window to see what I could only describe as zombies! Dark shapes, hoods pulled up over heads, blue glow casting weird shadows over faces and stumbling gaits as they lumbered around the snow outside.

Then we saw it, three huge coaches “Aurora Watch Tours” blazened across their sides and as our eyes adjusted, we made out a huge crowd of tourists milling around the car park and nearby field, their tour guide giving instructions how to set up their cameras to capture the lights. Oh well if you can’t beat them, join them, so we dressed and clambered out, the captain with his camera and tripod in hand. It took a while for our vision to be able to see the sky properly and right enough we could make out a green swath across the northern sky above a distant mountain ridge. It did indeed come and go and move though it was not the National Geographic magazine style vibrant display, it was definitely the northern lights and we saw “the dance”. We stayed out after the crowds had gone, their allotted time up and watched a little more just ourselves. Another dream realised.

This land held me in awe, captive by its stark landscape, new land forming, old land eroding. It seemed so ancient in many respects, land of Vikings, land of old traditions, fishing, whaling, livings scrapped out of barren land, constantly swept by the winds from the Atlantic. Yet new, new invaders, seeking new experiences, some would say raping and pillaging. Coach after coach load of international tourists, cameras clicking, phones flashing. They pour out of their warm vehicles with velvety covered seats, dressed like they were going to a pop concert into an austere landscape, teeter along steep sided gorges, muddy slippery paths at the edge of cliffs, boiling pools of water right beside the trails and ice towering over them, moving, creaking. Yet they seemed oblivious to the reality of it, like it was an Arctic theme park. Like somehow they were protected from it. I heard a tragic story of some lads on a stag weekend, senses dulled a little by alcohol presumably, who coming across the geothermal pools heated to over boiling point, a cauldron of bubbling steaming water, one guy jumped in, encouraged by his “friends”. Why? We heard more stories from the guides of many accidents, even deaths that are not reported, so as not to discourage the stream of tourists taking advantage of cheap European budget flights only 2 hours from the UK and free stop overs for USA visitors. This was a whole new situation, one that my more learned colleagues at the school of adventure studies were concerned with and were involved in researching along with their students who were undertaking expeditions and research into this emergent destination. Hopefully some answers could be found and there was evidence of the government trying to address this. A small sign, showing the temperature of the water, was erected beside the boiling pools and a rope cordoned it off from the path.

I have seen his type of behaviour from tourists before though, as a guide, of almost leaving their common sense behind on the plane seat along with the inflight magazine and empty coffee cup. Care, thought, responsibility, decision making was handed over to me entirely. Tell me when to get up, what to eat, what to wear, when to stop for a break, where to step, where to put my hand. I remember one guest on leaving a week long trip, look at me with dismay as we bid our farewells.

Who’s going to tell me what to do now?” he almost cried.

I understood it, many of these guests are high functioning business people, highly paid, busy lives, time tabled, scheduled, arranged then they take some precious time off and they can’t really do it themselves so they hand themselves over to “the guide” and ask them truly to “guide” them. This seemed to be a little of what was happening here. Tour companies cashing in on this constant supply of revenue, whisked these people away from the airport and guided them through the landscape, informing, educating, enthralling and directing them to the roadside garages, cafes and hotels, all owned by the same tour company. It seemed fit to burst though, it was almost tangible in the cold Arctic air. It hit me when back home in Oban going about some business in town I called into the bank for some sort of transaction and the friendly young teller did her usual customer relation  chat  about holidays and what I was up to for the weekend and it transpired she was off to Iceland for the weekend.

“Ah nice” I said “Why are you going there?” It seems an unusual destination for  a weekend break.

“Flight from Edinburgh Friday night, £60 return, then on Saturday me and my pals have booked on a tour, “Arctic in 24 hours”, we get to walk on ice, get mud baths in the Blue Lagoon, see the Northern lights while drinking vodka and eating reindeer burgers!”


I can’t judge, I went as a tourist and we can’t hold ourselves as any more virtuous than any other visitor however I hoped we had left little trace, respected the land we visited and came back with a deeper understanding and reflection on a situation that seems untenable. My own son had taken up employment there as a guide on the glaciers, he had made good money, worked very hard and seen things he did not respect, did not admire and was one of the reasons he had chosen to go on to university to study Environmental Geography and Outdoor Education in an attempt to understand it more and hopefully do something positive to address this. Now that I admired.


We climbed aboard the airplane with a bumpy take off due to the strong northern winds, climbing high in the sky and I kept my eyes on the horizon as the sun went down in the hope of seeing the Aurora one more time. I had heard of a flight recently where the engaging pilot had alerted his passengers to the Aurora displaying beautifully for ages at one side of the plane then he had to ask them to take their seats again as they were causing the plane to tip as all were pressing their noses against one side taking in this spectacle. Don’t you just love people.

And that’s just it, I do love people. As a teenager going through that impossible task of deciding what to do on leaving school, I decided I wanted to be an anthropologist. My career adviser had to ask me what that was and what job would I get with it. I had answered calmly that I wanted to live with the Inuit and study how they live. I was told to consider nursing.

Well I did study anthropology for two years at university but had to make a choice for the final years and chose geography to major in, no regrets but I still like to dabble in the study of people. We are fascinating.

We landed in a slightly warmer Edinburgh and while we waited for my sister in law to collect us, I called my mum to check in.

“Hi, I’m back, how you doing?”

Not so good pet” And so began the two months of trauma, a tense and stressful time but one which ended well and brought new friends and caring people. A delightful girl, living just down the road joined our team and took on Mum as a home help. Family all helped out and supported both of us.

No leaving her on an ice flow as in Inuit tradition, her carer sent me a picture of her, hair done, lipstick on, silk scarf round neck, smiling as she lunched with a friend in the spring sunshine.

The adventure continues.

Oranges and Lemons

All our roads go nowhere.

Maps are curled

To keep the pavement definitely

On the world.


All our footsteps, set to make

Metric advance,

Lapse into arcs in deference

To circumstance.


All our journeys nearing Space

Skirt it with care,

Shying at the distances

Present in air.


Blithely travel-stained and worn,

Erect and sure,

All our travels go forth,

Making down the roads of Earth

Endless detour.

On inhabiting an Orange   Josephine Miles


I drove her home, heated seats on, blanket over her knee, the snow falling gently whitening the landscape.

I was pleased she was coming home but felt a huge responsibility as I walked her into the house, settled her in her chair and put the kettle on. I stayed that night but didn’t sleep a wink. It felt like having a new baby except this was different in that I hadn’t planned for this, no discussion, no gestation, no organising my life for the next few years around this. This had happened to me and there was no choice in this new lifestyle. The following weeks were tough, physically demanding on her and me, emotionally draining on her and me, as we went through the trauma of more falls, more ambulance call outs, more pains, more degeneration of an already frail body. I tried my best to be upbeat and take it all on the chin but as the only family member left, I felt it hard. After months of experiencing a freedom like I had never known, every minute of the day with my captain to, in a day, being on my own and totally tied to this situation. J had returned to the boat after a week at home, to deal with the repairs sustained during the Malta squall, leaving me to look after Mum. We spoke every day and I tried hard to sound positive and in control but every now and then my voice would break and it would all flood out. I felt guilty to feel sorry for myself, it was Mum who was suffering and I knew how hard all this was for her, the dependence on others, the help required to remain at home and the relinquishing, to some extent, of her way of living.

I drove home late at night after another tough day dealing with incontinence, cleaning, laundry, emotion, cooking, supporting, walked into my lounge and poured a glass of red, looking at the rain streaming down the window. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had been so enjoying our idyllic lifestyle on the boat, slow wakening in our bunks, sun streaming through the hatches, breakfast of fresh fruits up on deck, cycles to the pastry shop, coffees in the cafes, walks on the beaches and evenings inside, sharing pastas or pizzas watching movies snuggling in together. The “pause” button had been pressed and I was not sure if the “play” or Stop” button would be pressed next.


We left Spinoso, happy memories made, new clothes in the boot of our Fiat Panda, bread and cheese on the back seat and the sat nav perched on the dash leading us to our next stop. Matera. I had read a bit about this fascinating but melancholy town. I had seen it on a BBC documentary and it was only when I researched the Airbnb site and came across a flat for rent there, I remembered about it.

“Oh can we go there?” I had asked excitedly. “What is it? “ J asked suspiciously, afraid it was another Amalfi type place that he really was averse to.

“It’s a world UNESCO site, recent historical significance, a city made of stone, that is what Sassi means stone and the poor people had to live in caves hollowed out the cliffs along with their animals and when this was discovered, after the war, the homes were improved and people moved into better housing, I think it’d be really interesting to go there”

Agreed, accommodation booked and soon we arrived in the modern area of the city and met our host who showed us to a room in a shared flat, although there was no one else staying that night.  We were to take breakfast at the café below us on the street. We walked into the “old” part that evening and soon got a taste of this incredible place. Built into, not onto, a hillside, a tumbling array of stone buildings and caves, some chic and trendy, some basic, some still being renovated. Many turned into “museums” but I didn’t want to gawk at the displayed misery of people so we elected to wander around admiring the work of social communities to revive the life in this city and turn a tragedy to a success. Apparently, it was now the Airbnb capital of Italy. The night was comfortable as we sat in our room eating bread and cheese from the dressing table, washed down with a decent wine, it was ok.

After our discount coffee and cornetto we walked back to the old part and did the touristy trail, feeling so lucky to be off season as it must be a very different place in the height of the season. We enjoyed a “typical” meal in the heart of the town and paid a typical tourist high price before heading back to the flat for the last night.

I feel I need to compete with the Princess Diana collection” announced J as he pulled the last remaining strands from the knee of his jeans. Its not often he likes to buy clothes but this was a necessity so we browsed the shops along the street, finding a men’s outfitters. Pair of jeans, plain, good fit, they’ll do, how much? Splutter, cough, gasp £200! We beat a hasty retreat and asked around if there were any discount stores and luckily were directed to an outlet in a basement where he purchased a pair of jeans, plain, good fit, they’ll do, £30! Kaching!

We left this interesting place and drove further south to our last posting. Mammola. Just on the edge of the Aspromonte National Park it ticked all our boxes and we checked into a newly refurbished apartment right in the village square. It was such a novelty for us solitary woodland dwellers to be able to stroll out the front door and amble over the square to a café for cappuccino or the bar for a glass of wine, the restaurant for a pizza and the shops for fresh fruit or bread. I could see the attraction of living in a village or town but when the traffic noise and chimes of the church bells kept us awake, I was grateful for our quiet, dark and secluded Scottish home. This little village was built on the lower slopes of hills that rose steeply up to a knife edged ridge of mountains that snaked their way back from the coast and started the Apennine range winding its way all the way up the centre of Italy to the Alps in the north. The scenery was lovely but you needed to make an effort to climb up and away from the coastal areas and flatter plains, to get an appreciation of the views and alpine like plateaus with farms and pasture lands dominating the landscapes. We took a drive up a tiny one laned road and marveled at the vistas, little albergos along the way and small lakes perched high on these slopes, steep forests carpeting the slopes and churches encouraging the faithful to  make the journey heavenwards to worship.

We researched some trails and found a day long walk that promised pretty woodlands, pasture land and hill tops with plenty of interest along the way. Packing a day bag and tying on my boots I was glad of a good walk knowing that soon we would be back on the boat and the hiking would be over for a while. It had been raining a lot so we dodged the mud along the lower paths and teetered over the stepping stones crossing the streams. I still found it odd we were passing oak trees and pines then copses of cacti! There was evidence of wild boar everywhere with the ground ploughed up and little trotter prints all around. The cows ambled along, their bells tinkling, accompanied by those beautiful wolfdogs with their thick white coats and soft faces. As we made our way down the steep paths we could see the Mediterranean sea twinkling through the trees and the farms below, wood smoke rising from the houses and fields as the winter stubble was burned off.

Wow look at all these oranges!” marvelled J. Here we were in December and the citrus trees were full of lemons and clementines. They were everywhere and the roads were lined with vans selling then directly from their boots.

I’m going to pick some of these” announced the pirate captain, “They look wild and I don’t think anyone will miss them” I was skeptical but went along with it as he pulled a couple of big orange fruits from the branches. We peeled them quickly and stuffed the huge segments into our mouths – and promptly spat them out! Sour as hell! Must be uncultivated ones and we quickly tossed the few we had smuggled into our rucsac into the ditch and marched on, our cheeks pulled in and tongues numb.

Round the next corner was a little orchard, orange trees planted and fruits hanging.

“Ok let’s try again” J suggested. I was edgy about this “Someone might come and I’ve seen a few vans with dogs and guns!”

They’re not going to shoot us for taking a few oranges!” laughed the captain, so I had to keep a look out while J climbed the low wall and scuttled over to the tree, opened his rucsac and started pulling the oranges and stuffing them into the bag. Just then I heard van crunching its way along the rough, stony track towards us.

Eek, I ran away and stood at the side of the road, little Miss Innocence just admiring the view, leaving J holding caught orange-handed, an fruit in each hand and glaring at me with a look that burned. Anyway the farmer or assassin, showed no interest as he drove by, his undercarriage scraping the rocks as he edged it over the pot holed road.

Some Bonnie you are to my Clyde” he spat “You left me!”

“Sorry, I panicked “ I said sheepishly.

Our heart rates calmed we walked on, the bag bulging, our guilt receding.

The next farm looked a busy place with machinery lying around, tractors and carts parked askew in the yard and dogs yapping. We stopped to admire the large cultivated orchards growing lemons, oranges, tangerines and huge pomelos. Just then a smiling lady appeared as we were taking pictures, just pictures, of her amazing produce and we started our pigeon Italian chat. Before we knew it she pulled us into the field and more or less demanded we take some fruit! I have too many she said, please take what you can. Have you a bag? J awkwardly moved the rucsac crammed with illicit contraband, on his back further round his body and we gave a hopeless look so she disappeared into the house and appeared with 2 huge Lidl carriers and promptly started filling them with copious amounts of delicious, shining, fresh fruit. She was delightful and we chatted a while about where we were from and why we were here, not sure she understood about us sailing from Scotland but she was lovely and sent us off feeling extremely guilty for pinching fruit in the first place.

The trip had been amazing, we had met some delightful people and seen some amazing things and had some great experiences. We gorged on sweet juicy fruit for days, squeezed oranges for breakfast for week and even distributed the surplus to friends back at the marina. The beautifully  fresh fish purchased from the back of a car parked outside our Mammola flat, with the proverbial fish wife yelling at the top of her voice proclaiming her wares, benefitted from the best lemons wedges on the side.

We arrived back at the marina and trundled our bags back along the pontoon and onto Stravaigin who was safe and untroubled. I unpacked, put away, filled the laundry bags, made the bed, went up on deck to watch the sunset and poured a large gin – with a generous slice of lemon.