Throw all your stagey chandeliers in wheelbarrows and move them north

To celebrate my mother’s sewing machine

And her beneath an eighty-watt bulb, pedalling

Iambs on an antique metal footplate

Powering the needle through its regular lines,

Doing her work. To me as a young boy

That was her typewriter. I’d watch

Her hands and feet in unison, or read

Between her calves the wrought-iron letters:

SINGER. Mass-produced polished wood and metal,

It was a powerful instrument. I stared

Hard at its brilliant needle’s eye that purred

And shone at night; and then each morning after

I went to work at school, wearing her songs.


Opera   Robert Crawford


“Any results through yet?” I enquired, feeling like a stuck record.

Not yet, sorry but she had a good night and took her breakfast” Smiled the cheery but tired nurse. I always thought that an odd expression, “took” her breakfast, took it where? I sat by her bed and we chatted, I was trying to project my voice so she could hear me without her hearing aid but not so loud that the rest of the ward could hear us.

There’s a new man in that bed across there” she stated.

“No Mum it is a lady”

“A lady? No! looks like a man? I thought it was odd he was carrying a hand bag when he came in.”

Oh dear, just as well the elderly lady was out for the count and oblivious to our conversation.

“Any news of me getting out yet ?”  she enquired

“No, sorry, they still want to do more tests and they are keen we get home help in place before they think of sending you home.”

Och well, may as well stay put”

“Yes and the weather is awful just now, you’re safe and cosy in here” I said as I tidied her cabinet, folding her silk scarves and pairing her socks. “I’d better be going now, I think it’s your meal time.

“Ok pet, see you tomorrow”

I kissed her brow, skin as thin as paper and almost translucent.

I walked out the doorway and smiled to myself as a golden glint on her hospital table caught my eye, an Yves St Laurent lipstick heralding there is still life here.


The back and forth ferry surged its way across the Straits of Messina and arrived at the coast of Italy, dropped the ramp and more or less heralded, off you go! The packed ferry traffic surged forward and we joined the malay, unbelievably getting ashore and on the main road without a scratch.  Unlike the lady beside us who squeezed past a lorry and tore her wing mirror off, she drove on oblivious. The drive north was scenic and I took in the views as we left the coast and made our way up into the mountains and into the heart of Calabria. The previous night’s search had found us a cheap Airbnb in a tiny village called Buonvicino. It was called The Old Tower and sounded cute. The road up to it seemed never ending and I did feel for J behind the wheel in the dark, no road markings, wrong side of the road and suicidal Italian drivers shrieking down the road towards us. We reached the road end in a paved courtyard and parked beside a pretty little garden area, complete with water fountain and round wooden band stand. Vincente our host drew up beside us and helped carry our bags up some wide stone steps and through some narrow alleyways.

I thought it easier to take you than explain” he said

Too right!  We arrived at a little wooden door at the foot of a round stone tower, a bit like an Alice in Wonderland door and indeed inside it opened up to a delightful fairy tale house with a balcony that looked down the hillside to the sea and a spiral staircase that lead romantically down to the bedroom. Perfect.

Buonvicino was a delight, we spent a couple of days there and found amazing walks along a deep river valley that snaked its way up on to the ridge line and led us to a monastery high on the hill top. The woods were in late winter mode but still offering up little surprises of mushrooms and flowers. Evenings were spent at the tiny bar with only two seats where we enjoyed Prosecco, the local drink of choice and nibbled on salty snacks, trying our best to chat to the locals in our very basic Italian. I think we were somewhat of a novelty, two Scots, well off the beaten track and off season. We enjoyed a meal at an empty restaurant when we were simply offered a meal choice of meat or vegetables! It was nice but awkwardly quiet and then the chef overcharged us, a lot!  Returning to our little flat after dinner, there was another lunatic standing beside the doorway, a broom in hand again, I said “Hi” but she stared at me with wild eyes and ran into her house – I almost asked her if she had a twin sister in Randazzo! We settled down for a quiet night in this mountain retreat, closed the shutters and popped the heater on as the temperatures had plummeted, however the peace was shattered occasionally by our neighbour shrieking intermittently. Ear plugs in and a reassuring nod at the crucifix nailed to the wall!

Morning was sounded loud and clear by the church bells clanging 10 yards from our bedroom and just when our pulse rates had calmed down the workmen started with a pneumatic drill under the bedroom window, drilling out the stone on a walkway below us! Well it got us up to enjoy a full day and after a breakfast of fresh pastries and hot coffee we headed off further north. The distances were bigger than we thought but the road network amazing and put our dreadful home roads to shame, however we arrived at our next destination in Pompeii in time to meet our next host.

The flat was situated “a short walk from the ancient ruins” and it was indeed but also at the side of busy industrial road with a cement factory down the street, however once we were led back a few metres and up the stairs to the self-contained flat, it was an oasis of charm and peace. The gentleman spoke no English so his son’s pal had been hauled in to do the introductions, he had excellent English spoken with an Australian accent, the place he had learned the language some years ago. It was well appointed, the furniture was beautiful and the only issue was heat, as these places are not really rented out in the winter so not really set up for cold weather. We put the heater units on full power and sat around in jackets until the ceramic tiled floors and stone walls heated up a little. Dinner was chicken and chips from a roadside rotisserie, washed down with a local red, it was just fine.

Wandering around the ancient city of Pompei the next day was a real experience, we had no idea it was so large, a whole city. We self-guided and enjoyed having it to ourselves, save a few other off-season travellers clutching their digital recordings on their phones enlightening them of the marvels of this fascinating Roman city. Laundries, bathhouses, street food cafes, villas, brothels, they were all there intact and we wandered around for six hours, me trying to visualise myself as a middle aged Roman lady in long dress, shawl draped over shoulders, bronze armulets worn high up on my arm, hair braided back and leather thongs on feet that deftly crossed the stepping stones across the street to avoid the water and effluent that ran downhill. I imagined my captain as a master of his villa, a good man, perhaps a boat builder or a merchant and our three sons would be strong men, one perhaps a horse trainer, one maybe in the legions and one a scholar. As young boys my sons had indeed enjoyed stories of ancient Rome and Greece, the odysseys and the mythologies, Gods and Goddesses, boys being raised by she-wolves, maybe there was a little of that in them?

We stayed until it almost dark, the guides were locking gates and we walked the 20 minutes back to the flat quietly, reflecting on this lost world.

Leaving a clean and tidy flat we made this our northerly turn around and headed back south though J was persuaded to take a detour to see some of the Amalfi coast. I had briefly visited the Bay of Naples on the cruise with Mum years ago and we had visited Sorrento and I had been impressed by the picturesque scenery, though this day was wet and cloudy. The road was twisting, seemingly endless and coastline very built up. We arrived at Amalfi and wandered around a little but after being charged £18 for a coffee and pastry, we beat a retreat away from this touristy town realising we had been spoiled in our hidden villages, coffees and Proseccos for £1 each. I even decided it would be a waste of time, money and effort sailing up here as originally thought, as it was a very developed coast and we came to realise we prefer the empty coves and quiet beaches where only the sea birds parade on the shore.

We had found another random location for the next four days, again a pin dropped in the middle of the Google green, it was cheap, available and I liked the sound of the name, Spinoso, so seemed the ideal place.

We drove deep into Basilicata and round a large dammed lake, feeling slightly unsure as the road led right across the top of the immense dam wall. The Google maps led us right into the heart of the ubiquitous medieval stone built, hill top village, a few wrong turns and we ended up almost vertical on a single lane cobbled street facing a church.

“Don’t think this is it” I suggested. Eventually we parked at the right location given, beside a primary school under construction and sure enough there was the house, right in the village square. We had arranged with the host to meet there but there was no sign at all. We wandered around, checked times, called numbers, sent emails but nothing. We knew some Airbnb are self-let in, so we went to the door and J found a little key behind an open shutter, this in turn opened the gas cupboard and there was the door key. We let ourselves in, presuming this must be the system and gradually turned the house on, I made beds with linen and quilts found neatly stored in cupboards, while J turned on the gas heating, plugged in fridge, lit the oven and we felt quite a home in no time. Once settled in we skipped over the square to a café and ordered up Prosecco and salty crackers. I discovered coffee ginseng, a delicious caramelly espresso that I quite happily sipped until I realised it causes insomnia and literally lay awake until it got light the next morning! We were wandering back over the square when a fellow approached us and asked if we were the Ormistons? It turned out this was the owner Sergio, he explained he had received a message we had cancelled so he was not expecting us, then his mate called him and said there were lights on in his house! It all ended well and he was amazed we got in and figured it all out. I think he was re-evaluating his security system but he came in to check we were ok with everything and announced he’d be back in the morning with breakfast, result!

He did indeed but pretty sure it was second time around as we woke at 11am after I had eventually dozed in the early hours and there was a basket of fruit, bread, butter, jam and yogurts on the table.  I was intrigued that he had a Singer sewing machine sitting proudly on the landing in his former family home and I explained my mother had one of these used regularly in her younger years making dresses and hemming curtains and they were made in Scotland – he was fascinated as had no idea where they came from. I recalled my Mum creating clothes from fragile paper patterns and even my Dad designing and making his own kilt jacket from brown velvet for my wedding, my mum cross at him breaking all her needles as the fabric was too thick! She still has the machine, protected in its wooden dome case, it in her attic I think.

We spent lovely days exploring this pleasant little province and meeting the locals. The café became our local and we “chatted” with the old men and ladies of the town. I shopped in the grocers for fresh fruit and veg and discovered a pastry shop with a very grumpy pastry chef – maybe it’s all those years of getting up so early – he made Christmas cookies with his face on them I am sure! I got friendly with the fruit and veg lady who was the mum of the dress shop lady, who was the sister of the café lady, who was the sister-in-law of our host Sergio. I loved it, a real community and they were so welcoming. I was suffering from a severe lack of suitable clothes having only cottons and linens and there was now snow on the hills. My shoes were trainers or mules and my feet were cold so I took myself over to the only ladies fashion shop probably in Basilicata and the delightful girl, Mima, dressed me in trendy trousers and a jumper and there sitting on the shelf were one pair of black suede boots with a fake fur trim. What size are they I enquired?

42, my size – oh there is a God!

I wandered back to the house with my bags swaying and a grin on my face, happy wife =  happy life says the captain! I paid a few visits to this shop mainly to chat to Mima as she loved talking about other places and how life is in Scotland and she invited me for coffee with her sister and friend Consensa – our host’s wife. We then spent a great evening drinking Martinis and Proseccos and I met Palmira who was an English teacher and we talked for ages as she wanted to practise her English. We became friends and I am still in touch with her, inviting them all to Scotland and to stay with us. These were the nicest people and I realised what village life should be like.

The next day brought pale blue skies, dry cold weather and the snows that had fallen the night before tempted us to set off on a hill walk up to the mountains. We packed some bread, cheese and fresh tangerines from the market and drove up to the road end before we pulled our rucsacs on our bags and the edges of our hats snug around our ears. The path was delightful leading us around the edge of high pasture land with pretty beige cows wandering along, their bells tinkling, adding to the scene. The trail petered out to a single track and the snow was fresh and unmarked for a while. We came out of the woodlands and were now high up on the Apennine foot hills, the views splendid in every direction.

“Oh look there is someone else out and has dogs” I pointed to paw marks in the snow though these were big. We had seen sheep dogs lying out with the stock around this area so we reckoned it could be them however there was no stock  way up here. The prints laced their way up the track then headed into the forest before returning again on the hillside, a scratched area where their feet had scuffed up the grass and urine sprayed around, still yellow on the snow. The footsteps continued on but the paw prints disappeared. We came out onto a plateau area and stopped to take in the views all around, the air crisp and clear, feeling so grateful to be in this place. We carried on upwards to the summit and saw a figure on the top sitting on the stones, his bag at his feet.

“Ciao” we greeted as we approached. He looked fairly surprised at our arrival and could not believe we were two visitors from Scotland here in December. His name was Antonio and he was from Spinoso, he called his wife to let her know where he was and to tell her of his encounter – she didn’t believe him so we had to talk to her on the phone and he showed us to her on his facetime call! He insisted we share his lunch and we could not refuse when he pulled out a hunk of salty crumbly aged cheese, rustic bread, a savoury herby sausage and a flask of deep red wine – all made by him on his small holding! It was the most amazing hill lunch we had ever had. We hid our pitiful baguette and supermarket cheese and spent time chatting to him about where he lived, he was simply out for a walk on his local hill to enjoy the day. I liked that, thinking I know how that feels when I climb Ben Lora or Sgulaird behind the house, the best adventures are sometimes right where you live, you feel bonded.

After a while I asked

“Oh, where are your dogs, we saw the prints?”

No dogs” he said “Wolves

Wow, we were gobsmacked, wolves here? He told us all about the Apennine grey wolf and how it had reintroduced itself and were now doing very well and had spread down the spine of Italy and into the Alps. He was pleased even though he had stock, he had his wolf dogs the Maremma, a gorgeous breed that live with the cows, sheep and goats to protect them so it was not an issue he said – there were of course others that were not happy with this species gaining strength and re-inhabiting their old territories.

We left Antonio and I watched him as he ambled off, napsac on back, stick in hand and new tales to tell his mates once back at the bar.

Another white summit beckoned us along a snowy shoulder and we found more tracks in the snow, so fresh we reckoned the pack had passed here maybe only a half hour previously, the little tops of snow still falling from the indentations made by their paws. I was enthralled. I love these animals and felt so privileged to just be in the same area as them. We had made on a canoe trip in Southern Sweden many years previously with our two of sons plus our eldest’s girlfriend and youngest’s school pal and were told there were wolves in the area we paddled through but we didn’t see them either.

I had seen them when leading a trip in Mongolia, high up in the Khentii mountains near the Russian border. I was leading a group of 11 teenagers plus their two teachers from Fife on a month long trip and we were travelling on horseback in a very remote area. We had been riding for a few days, all of our gear and food on pack horses and were moving through a dense woodland area before breaking out onto the low hill area when a cry went up from one of the wranglers. A pair of the pack horses had broken loose, tied together and ran off into the scrub. This was a real emergency as they were carrying all our food and we were at least four days ride from the nearest supply village. There was nothing we could do but dismount and take shelter from the sun under the trees and wait while some of the Mongolian riders sped off to look for them. We were told to stay with the horses and gear as there were bandits in the hills that would steal the gear. Hours passed and as the leader I was in a turmoil what to do. I had a satellite phone to use if needed and I was going through all the scenarios in my mind when the lead wrangler appeared on his motorbike, his broken leg sticking straight out ahead like a lance in its plaster cast. He had been alerted by the rest of his team of our plight and luckily had been nearby so came to assess the situation. He told us of a wooden hunting shelter not too far up the valley and suggested we move there for the night though the ground was tricky for the horses as it became really rocky and unstable. He swigged on homemade vodka from his plastic bottle, spat a lot and even though I speak no Mongolian, knew he was swearing a lot too! Just as it was getting dark and we were deciding to move out the woods, the riders appeared leading the two runaways out the bush, pack bags dangling from them and trailing on the ground! Thank goodness they were back but oh my lord what a mess the bags were in as they had run for hours through dense woodland and bush and across rivers before being caught. I had been told the sole goal for every horse we had was to return to their wild herd and these two had made a good go of it! We set to. Untied the bags and sorted out the remnants of two week’s worth of food that resembled a multi coloured porridge floating around at the bottom of the not so “dry”  bags while the wranglers washed down the horses as they were covered in sweat and mud. The students and myself salvaged and resorted as much food as we could, though glass jars of jam had smashed with oats, bread, cheese, dried herbs and potatoes so much had to be discarded.

We decided to make camp here by the river as we had water and fire wood even though it was pretty damp. We set to and made a fire and I put together a meal for all 19 of us, cooked over the megre flames and we tied the horses to the trees around the camp. Then the fun started as the wranglers noticed a large wolf pack patrolling along the skyline above us.

We need to keep the fires going all night and take turns to keep a look out” translated our interpreter. “The wolves have smelt the horses and will attack

“Ok” I said calm as a cucumber on the outside but nerves jangling inside like an electric storm. We set up a rota for the overnight watch and after food and the rest were bedded down, we started our vigil. The wranglers sat round the fire, smoking roll ups and drinking vodka and occasionally standing up and waving burning branches towards the river as the wolves had come right down to the riverside and were stalking across the water from our camp, their eyes glinting in the dark.

I sat watching them with a mixture of excitement and fear – not that I feared they would attack us but this expedition was my responsibility and I wanted to get these kids though it safely.

Morning broke eventually and I had not slept at all, every time I drifted off I was convinced I could feel a hairy swish pass my tent but they had not crossed the river and the horses were safe though the pack did follow us on the ridge above the valley for miles until we returned to the village to restock.

We never saw the grey Italian wolves who had passed this way but counted four from the tracks. Good luck to them I silently bade, as we headed down from the hill and back to the village.

I wore my new clothes that night when we walked down the road to Sergio’s uncle’s pizzeria and enjoyed a tasty meal of pizza and pasta with a jug of wine and we felt quite at home in Spinoso.

We wandered back up the road and stood leaning on the rails that surrounded the village square and looked over the valley, the moonlight casting a silvery veil over the fields and woodlands, I tried to convince myself I heard a howl. If only.

Journey’s End?

The moon upon the wide sea

Placidly looks down,

Smiling with her mild face,

Though the ocean frown.

Clouds may dim her brightness,

But soon they pass away,

And she shines out, unaltered,

O’er the little waves at play.

So ‘mid the storm or sunshine,

Wherever she may go,

Led on by her hidden power

The wild see must plow.


As the tranquil evening moon

Looks on that restless sea,

So a mother’s gentle face,

Little child, is watching thee.

Then banish every tempest,

Chase all your clouds away,

That smoothly and brightly

Your quiet heart may play.

Let cheerful looks and actions

Like shining ripples flow,

Following the mother’s voice,

Singing as they go.


The Mother Moon   Louisa May Alcott


I sat in the carpark, the rivulets of rain trickling down the windscreen, the starburst lights of other cars punctuating the darkness. I lay my head back on the restraint and closed my eyes.

“Is this it? Is this what it feels like to know someone you love is leaving?”

I had stood in that same car park 21 years ago as my father walked me out the hospital, his slippers scraping on the tarmac, his hands awkwardly in his pockets, a rather fixed smile on his face.

“Ok Dad, see you tomorrow.., I love you” I had said falteringly. I had never said those words to him before.

“Och yes, Spooky Do, yes yes, see you later” he said cheerfully as he touched my shoulder, turning away and keeping that noncommittal smile.  I watched him walk back into the hospital, back to his ward, back to his bed and it seemed like someone else.

I remember crying in the car once I had sat down and he was out of sight. I knew I was losing dad and he knew he was going and there was nothing we could do about it. Mesothelioma they told us in grave tones, eyes looking downward “So sorry”.

I never heard my father say he loved me, he did not need to, I knew. He was awkward with his emotions, though he was a very gentle man, creative and artistic and knew what love was. Not physically demonstrative but laid his love and protection out like a wool blanket to cover me whenever I needed it. I followed him in nature in the early days, not quite knowing how to deal with my emotions and hid them, a lot. Maybe that is why I had such a vivid and roaming imagination, I went into my own world with ease, to avoid dealing with reality.

We lost him in the May, four months after diagnosis, a rapid decline and a grateful, relatively peaceful early end to what would have been a living hell. I did not cope, I was numb, it was a period in my life I could not deal with. A young mother of two little boys and a tiny baby and I did not have the strength to cope so I did not deal with it but instead put it in a box, closed the lid and buried it.  I decided I  would open it one day and deal with it later, like chests in the attic containing treasured things that are taking up space and need cleared out, one day.

And here I was again, twenty years later back in Oban and that elegant, sociable, red lipstick wearing Art school girl was lying in a high dependency ward and I thought I may be losing her.

Stravaigin was safely tied up in her berth, E30, ropes off, washed and stored, dinghy deflated and under wraps, bikes assembled and locked against the electricity meter. Life after the storm of Malta, had settled into a delightful routine of late awakening, tea in bed while we chatted. Breakfast of fresh yogurt, fruit and local honey with homemade granola sat in the sun in the cockpit and a plan made for the day. A cycle to the local outdoor market to buy fruit and vegetables, or a ride along to the next town for a coffee and Arancini. Afternoons watching the captain playing beach volleyball (my busted thumbs making my taking part a far too painful option), or a run along the seafront and workout on the outdoor gym and dinner in the saloon of spinach and ricotta cannelloni or pasta with fresh tomato sauce. I loved cooking with all the delicious and fresh produce of the area . Movie nights of snuggled Hygge, seats down, blankets out, lights off and snacks at the ready. Hedonistic days indeed as we approached the winter, the daylight shortened and the temperatures dropping though still warm enough to wear t shirts and linen  trousers in the day but jumpers and jacket now at night.

We hired a car for three weeks to use our “down time” and set off for a two week road trip to  Bay of Naples as our furthest northern destination and no other plans other than that.

We loaded up the Google maps and searched for any of the green areas as our criterion then decided to head for the heart of them, however we decided to start our trip in Sicily and booked a very cheap Airbnb in Randazzo, a tiny unheard of mountain village on the slopes of Mt Etna for two nights. We set off, far too may bags loaded in the back of our Fiat Punto, our floating home being checked in on by our friendly Somerset ex-trawlerman neighbour.

“Don’t worry now, she’ll be awlright, you ‘ave a good time now won’t you and you can tell us awl abouwt it when you’re baack” he drawled as he performed the pointless but constant act of hauling up his shorts over a belly that was rounder than the globe they had sailed round over the years.

It was great driving off, felt strange being in a car and the speed they travel at compared to the sedate pace of the sail boat. J liked being behind the wheel, to start with. It soon became apparent he would either have to drive in the gutter and wave motorists past like an 80 yr old or get in the fast lane and join them! The Italian drivers were something else, an Andretti in each one. My Sicilian ex-students gave us a few tips:

“Traffic lights are only suggestions”

“Italian word for indicators is arrows and we are not American Indians so we don’t use them!”

And he was right, never saw one being used in two weeks of driving, apart from hazards when they pull over to check their Facebook messages. I learnt to relax, slightly, but was chief navigator, trying to echo the Sat Nav’s instructions. We arrived in one piece at your first home in Randazzo, couldn’t quite believe it had taken us into the very heart of a stone built medieval town, single laned cobbled streets and announced we had reached our destination outside a huge Gothic wooden door. I knocked on the door with the huge brass claw hanging there and there was a shout to come in. I clanked open the door revealing a stone courtyard, wooden fire logs piled high spilling out across the flagstones and stone steps in a large curve leading upstairs and there on the stair I could only describe as a lunatic! A lady about four feet tall, dressed in tattered dress, cotton apron, broom in one hand, hair that literally stood on end the texture of Brillo and wild staring eyes fixed on me, the broom held to her chest like a shield.

Just as I was about to beat a hasty retreat, a young trendy Italian guy danced down the stairs from another side, hurriedly shooing her way, she glided up the stone stair case, her eyes still fixed on me.

“ Ah welcome Missas Ormaston, Pleez come in.”

It turned out to be a fabulous flat hidden inside like an oasis and we had two great days there, including a visit to Mt Etna. We had researched walks to do the night before and drove up high on the slopes, parked up and spent three hours walking on tiny trails, winding their ways among lava fields, huge banks of lava, old woodlands and literally crawling on hands and knees to peer over the edge of a crater down into the basin of an eruption 10 years ago. Skeletons of trees stood naked and alarmed in the middle of black ash, gravel and brand new rock. I was fascinated and enthralled. I touched the sharp edged rocks and ran my hand over the smooth weird boulders that felt warm. It was such a contrast to see the white snow lying in the hollows of jet black slopes and new streams finding their way down a new landscape. We had been given a tip by the car hire guy to go to Refugio Cittili, he had scrawled the name on the back of our hire agreement so we plugged it into the sat nav and discovered it was only 15 min drive away. We arrived at mountain café and small car park where we sat and munched on bread and cheese waiting for it to go dark. We were not sure what we were waiting for as there appeared to be nothing happening but slowly more people arrived, tour buses with brightly coloured guides and bundled up tourists clambered out the buses and adjusting their head torches before marching purposefully up into the woods and we watched as the line of their lights snaked slowly upwards towards the snow line. I sat back and ate another biscuit feeling slightly miffed that we could not go further having no torches or maps .

“Oh look!” I leapt forward” Its doing it!”

We switched off the reading light and peered up towards the skyline where a faint red glow was building. We moved into the warmth of the mountain hut and watched along with a handful of others as the red glow became more pronounced and a reddish orange river was visible making its way slowly down the steep slopes. The lava occasionally shot straight up forming a shower with sparks like fireworks in the dark skies. It was mesmerising, we watched it silently for hours with the other people, all strangers but all in mutual awe of this natural spectacle. Of course it had been there all along, just not visible until darkness but we were so grateful to see it and drove back feeling very satisfied and especially as a geographer I felt privileged to see the forces of nature first hand and I felt quite humbled.

The two days in Randazzo were fun, a dinner spent with a group of Sicilian children at a birthday party, a delicious coffee and croissant breakfast in a workmen’s café, an old man serving the wrinkles on his face hinting at a story that should be told. Mornings woken by thunder and lightning threatening to flood the bedroom with electric light as the wind blew open the window and rain pelted onto the floor by our my bed. Wanders around the old town hand in hand, exploring the churches and monuments to the fallen in the war, a strange feeling that it was the other side this time and a feeling of guilt. The last night we walked down the steep stairs to the old nunnery converted to a restaurant and enjoyed a fabulous rustic meal of local foods and wine made from the grapes that grow on the fertile slopes of the mountain that dominates this area and it was very good.

We bid our farewells to Randazzo and headed to Messina where we had tickets booked for the ferry across to the mainland. Leaving our island home and heading over to Italy, I leant on the rails and watched the seas swish by and I fixed my eyes on a small boat, sails up and making its way slowly along the coast.

Maybe that will be Stravaigin in a few months time when we make our return journey westward and home?

Paradise Lost


The wife, where danger or dishonour


Safest and seemliest by her husband


Who guards her, or with her the worst



John Milton from Paradise Lost

She bucked again with a crushing bang that made us flinch. And again, she was thrown beam side to the howling winds,the crashing and scraping noise from down below sickened me.

I dared not look down, the fenders were rolling around the cabin floor, mixed with bread, mushrooms, pans, shoes and ropes.

Get the boat hook “ yelled the captain over the horrendous noise of the maelstrom. We were being pushed dangerously close to the swimropes that were strung across the bay. Just with that the winds picked the dinghy up and it was flying tethered by its rope, the outboard miraculously still on. In an instant the propeller hooked itself around the swimrope and I felt sure it would be ripped off. I readied to attempt to hook the rope and try to free it but the wind was too ferocious and the boat being tossed around like a buoy, the captain grabbed the knife and cut the cord that held the dinghy to us, just as one of the flanges of the propeller snapped, the dingy was free and we were temporarily clear off the rope.

With a huge surge of power from the main engine we forced the boat away from the dangerous rope that threatened to foul our main propeller and it would be game over. The engine roared as we powered out towards the entrance to the bay, the boat reeling and bouncing.

What’s our depth?” yelled the skipper “We’re getting too close to the submerged rocks!

We were stuck. Our anchor was out there somewhere, lain down that morning but we had no means to pull it up, other than by hand and in this freak storm, there was no chance of that. We had no choice but to attempt to ride it out, trapped in the bay , surrounded by high cliffs and rocky promontories with fishing buoys and lines strewn across the bay, threatening to wrap around our propeller.

We had watched a movie the night before in the tranquil Blue Lagoon of Comino, entitled “Doom“, please don’t let this be an omen, I thought.

The rain was lashing down, we were soaked to the skin and with the winds were getting very cold. The captain was shivering and my feet were numb. I managed to dive below and grab some bananas and biscuits which we devoured to keep some kind of energy up as we had not eaten now for 18 hours. The roar of thunder terrified me as the flashes of lightning were thrown at us like spears from the black sky.

“Oh please don’t let this be it” I pleaded to myself, as more sickening scrapes and jolts violently threw the boat around.

It had all started so beautifully that morning. We were anchored in the famous Blue Lagoon of Comino, after sailing over from Malta the previous day. We were quite proud of ourselves, having swum ashore and attached a line to the rocks to keep her bow out and stop her scoping round as it was a relatively tight bay with many day tripper boats buzzing in and out the bay. We had been for a swim and were just thinking about breakfast when the line to the shore came free. No big deal. We swung round a little but it meant we got some swell which is not conducive to a pleasant breakfast experience. A small pantomime ensued as I was set to reattach the line with the dinghy. Now I am ashamed to say though I have a power boat qualification, I have not used the dinghy in over 4 years and was a bit rusty. I managed to figure it out but avoided looking at the captain who was raising his eyes to the heavens. A few bumps into the cliff, one wrap of the rope round the prop and a temporary fail at going backwards later, I did manage and even acted as a bow thruster to push the boat back against the wind. It was set again and I was safely – and thankfully- back on board but the wind was building a little and we decided to move round to a more sheltered bay 5 mins away and also avoid the inevitable Saturday tour boats. Seemed simple enough, we towed the dinghy behind and raised the anchor. Now the day before, in Paradise Bay, Malta, we realised the anchor remote switch was faulty. It would go down but not up, however the ingenious captain had made a temporary repair with crocodile clips and wires and it worked fine, though a little jerky.

We motored round beneath high pink cliffs, with amazing archs and stacks decorating their feet. We slowly entered a complete round of a bay but it felt too enclosed so we popped out and set anchor down a little further round, still sheltered but not so intimidating. It was deep though and we were not happy.

Pull her up” said J, “Lets get out of here” Something just didn’t feel right. I operated the improvised switch but my finger slipped and made a connection, short circuiting it. The chain just kept coming up, fast!

“I cant stop it!” I yelled. J ran below and switched off the windlass. “I’m sorry ” I think I’ve broken it.” I said mournfully.

“Its ok, we can operate it with the switch down below” J said encourgingly. We managed to get the anchor up and decided to head back over to Paradise Bay, a bay we knew was a good and safe anchorage from two nights before and we would sort it all out. The forecast was good for that bay, winds blowing us off but not too strong. Perfect.

We motored the 10 mins back across the channel between Malta and Gozo, blue skies and sunshine lightening the mood and I was looking forward to brunch as it was now 1pm and a swim in the clear blue waters.

We entered the bay and went to the same spot as before, laid the anchor down, bedded her in and I went below to make some food. It had got a bit cloudy and a slight rain shower started, so J came below to effect repairs to his switch, pulling out various tool boxes and electronic bits. I fried some mushrooms and beat up some eggs.

Eh, hold the food a minute” he said” Looks like a squall coming

And that was it. It was not forecast, it came out of nowhere and in minutes we were hit by 40mph winds that blew the sea flat at times, black skies, set up a swell that would not have looked out of place in the mid Atlantic, lashing rain with hail and a full on lightning and thunder storm.

Three hours it lasted. Three hours of extreme physical effort to hold the helm steady as we had lost the auto helm though it could not cope in these conditions. Three hours of being thrown across the small bay, the anchor chain jolting like a mad dog flying out its den then yanked back by its chain.

I thought for a couple of times we were going on the rocks for sure. I wasn’t afraid for our lives or physical safety really as we were in a bay, a little beach at one end which was now awash with surf raging across it. A modern hotel lay in a curve round the other side, I could see a couple of tourists on their balcony peering out at the tempest, no doubt feeling grateful they were not out in this. I began to wonder if anyone would come to help us or should we call for help. I was afraid J was getting exhausted. I was too terrified to feel sick though the boat was a roller coaster every second.

There is nothing anyone can do” stated J. “We cant get the anchor up in this, we just have to hold on, keep her out in the bay away from the rocks and wait til it dies down a bit then I need to get a second anchor in”

“Ok ” I nodded pathetically. We hauled the second anchor out the fender locker and fed out the chain, at one point it threatened to fall over the side before we grabbed it and secured it until we could deploy it. It was getting dark, the lightening exploding white light over the bay periodically.

Slowly it did die a little and we took our chance. J managed to lower the spare anchor and feed down the chain, hopefully locating it near the primary anchor. We felt it hold as it yanked us with the huge waves pounding us.

Gradually, it did lessen, the rain ceased, the winds reduced and we realised we were held in position, not dragging, finally.

“Go below and get dry and warm” J stated.

I was only too glad, exhausted and pretty shaken up. I stripped everything off as it was soaked and crawled into my bunk, wrapping the quilt round me.  Hurriedly putting a sea sick patch on too. It took four hours for my feet to warm and I was relieved when J finally crawled in beside me instantly warming me.

“Is everything ok now?” I ventured

“Its fine, were holding, storm has passed, I’ve had dinner and set the alarm for first light then I reckon we can get the anchors up and get the hell out of here”

“Where will we go?

“Back to Sicily”

Good” I wrapped my arms round his warm body and fell asleep.

Thankfully it was a peaceful night and first light found us clearing up the debris from the day before, thankfully nothing broken down below. Now we had to set too and raise the anchors manually, a tough feat using winches and elbow grease.

The first one came up not too bad but it pulled us too close to the rocks. With all the violence of the storm we had been pushed and pulled across the bay countless times and the chain must have been like spaghetti down there.

Now for the second one. We managed to winch up the chain and I had to keep on the helm to prevent us being pulled towards the cliffs. With a dreadful jerk we realised we were free but no anchor on the end of the chain!

Nothing we could do. We left. Thoroughly beaten up. The metal  rollers at the bow were twisted like spun sugar, the gel  coat gauged by the chain, the anchor lost, however it could have been a whole lot worse. Paradise Bay, really???

We had sailed over to Malta some days earlier, a last minute notion, the weather forecast was good, I had been back for a few days after my trip home and we had planned to go at some point before Christmas. Why not? The 10 hour sail was good though I suffered a bit and was glad to reach Sliema that afternoon. We checked into a nice marina though was the most expensive of the whole voyage so far, however it was so central  and J was desperate to revisit his childhood haunts which were nearby.

We had spent a delightful few days touring round his old homes from when his father was based there in the RAF. I could envisage Big John, Shackleton flight crew, flying jacket, Aviators, sports car, that tall handsome man. It sounded idyllic days of speed boats, picnics, playing in the coves, friends from school and especially his nannies. Lovely ladies he talked about over the years and we finally met up with them, Grace and Tess, two delightful ladies, sisters, two of 18 children, nine still living and so many stories to tell. There had been 9 girls and 9 boys, all raised in a small house, six to a bed, babies in drawers of the huge dresser, so tragically 7 of the boys were lost in the war. Tess still lived in that family home in Zurrieq, a fascinating home built into the stone like caves inter-connected by hallways , built for small Maltese people, I had to stoop like Alice-in-Wonderland,  I loved it. It had every ornament and picture imaginable, some peeking out of recesses in the stone wall, some proudly displayed in well oiled wooden display cabinets. I was treated to a dram of whisky as it was my birthday and buttery biscuits. Tess could not take her eyes off  “her boy” and told us the funniest stories of her trip to Scotland to stay with the family when they were back in Grantown on Spey. She had never left Malta at all before when at 28 she was asked to come and stay with the family for a few months. She jumped at the chance. It must have been a huge adventure for her, as her orders were to take a flight from Malta to London then up to Glasgow and then a train to Grantown, deep in Speyside. She made her way to the airport, never having been on an airplane before,

“We had a car for during the week and a horse for the weekend!” she proudly declared.

She duly awaited to board the plane but as she took her seat she felt the need to visit the loo. She asked the flight attendant who said it was fine and she went to the toilet which was behind the pilot and opened the door.

Oh Madonna” she cried “There was a women already in there.  I was so embarrassed. I went to go back to my seat but the air hostess came after me and said “No my dear there is no one inside, that’s a mirror

Oh ok” and in she went. “Well I never seen a toilet like this before,  all buttons and slits so anyways I did what I need to do and don’t know how to flush? I see a button that said “PUSH” so I push and oh my God, I started the plane!

I ran out the toilet and cried to the air hostess, I’m so sorry I have started the airplane

“No its ok , the pilot has started the plane, not you, see? ” and she showed her the cockpit with a laughing pilot, smiling at her.

Oh thank The Madonna! So I sit in the seat and think I will touch no more buttons and I look out the window and see the flashing light of the light house at the end of my bay, way down below. I never seen my island like this before. I watch this for a long time and it does not seem to get much further away.

Ah well maybe the pilot must circle round for a while I think. After a long time, I ask the man next to me, why have we not left Malta yet, I can still see the lighthouse?, he says, “lady put on your seat belt we are landing at Gatwick, that light is on the wing!”

I was in tears by this stage, her stories were hilarious;  never seeing snow before she flew into a bank on the deck at the house in Grantown and disappeared. Standing on the back of John’s skis and hitching a ride – the trip she said was the best she had ever had. The house the captain’s family had in the village they named Dar Il-hena (house of happiness) in memory of their happy times in Malta.

Grace proudly took us to her home in Birzebbuga (Pretty Bay), a three story mansion, beautifully furnished and decorated with her husband Simon’s art works. He was a lovely man, a slim Michael Douglas and just as pretty! They adored each other and it was lovely to see.

We had cycled round the tourist places, enjoyed Maltese bread (a desire of J’s since we met!) and drank Maltese wine which was pretty good. We had hired a car and went on a search of LPG to refill out cooking gas bottle, this led us through the less touristy parts to an industrial estate but we learned later Malta has 98% employed and it showed. Even the immigrant population mostly from Somalia and Eritrea were working, all busy, the economy was good.

I had been treated to an amazing birthday meal at a bay side restaurant five mins stroll from the boat. Salt baked sea bass and red snapper that was flambed at the table, all eyes on us! Then a dessert with the obligatory sparkler and a round of Happy Birthday by the waiting staff, I was thrilled and felt very spoiled. Life was good. Another dream fulfilled as we had always wanted to come to Malta, we never expected it would be on our own boat all the way from Scotland.

A tanned slim, glinty-eyed cousin of the ladies’ who made us amazing tajjeb hobz (good bread) declared we were mad sailing all that way “Why you not fly?” he quizzed “Much faster!!”

He told us about the crazy cat lady who drives round the island feeding the countless stray cats and declared her mad too.

He then told us about his friend who had decided to fly to Scotland but his wife died on the plane.

“See ” I said “safer on a boat”

He laughed out loud and nodded, fair play.

I loved the Maltese people, they were so welcoming and helpful, I felt comfortable there. We saw the Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta that Mum had stayed in when they visited my uncle stationed there with the army during the war, he was only a kid. She was happy we were there and phoned me on my birthday, I was happy to tell her I had been out for dinner sporting the beautiful cashmere and silk, mustard yellow, stole she gave me, with matching handbag gifted by the husband.

On leaving we went to the marina office to settle the bill, we were expecting a fairly hefty one however it had been a treat, though the receptionist certainly took the wind from our sails when she declared there would be no charge, we were their guests! We had had a tricky start when  we first arrived as the facilities were basic ( no hot water in the shower, no laundry or Internet etc)  and given the fee we had commented it was expensive. She said they were new and were hoping to improve and insisted we should not pay anything. However we insisted she accept something to cover water and electricity and give a tip to the staff who were lovely and she graciously accepted. Yes we liked the Maltese people.

Leaving Malta was bitter sweet, our time initially had been delightful and we had hoped to visit Gozo too however after the storm we felt we better quit while we were ahead. The sail back over took almost half the time in good strong winds, in a good direction. A lone bottle nose crossed our bow and a few tiny migratory birds flitting by as we sped along. Arriving back at our berth  in Marina Di Ragusa never felt so good. After we were safely tied up, we lay back in the cockpit and took a long stiff drink. No more sailing now for the winter, the next few weeks would be about exploring Sicily by car, bike and foot and maybe some trips further afield but mainly enjoying being liveaboards on Stravaigin. It really is paradise.



Caledonia’s Calling

“.., I have moved and I’ve kept on moving, proved the points that I needed proving

Lost the friends that I needed losing, found others on the way

I have kissed the girls and left them crying

Stolen dreams, yes there’s no denying

I have travelled hard, sometimes with conscience flying somewhere with the wind

But let me tell you that I love you, that I think about you all the time

Caledonia you’re calling and now I’m going home..,”

Dougie MacLean

Jogging along the debris strewn beach, under the swaying palms, passing locals wrapped up in down jackets, hoods tightly pulled in under chins, I feel so happy to be back here in my Mediterranean home, though the area has experienced some of the worst storms for 30 years and the coastline has taken a battering.  Passer-by’s look at me strangely in my shorts and vest top as they are now firmly in winter gear but it still feels like summer to me. Having spent the last week home in Scotland, scrapping frost off my car windscreen and setting the fire at night, I am glad to be back in this temperate winter home.

It felt so ordinary to climb aboard the airplane that flew me home from Sicily to UK but so absolutely extra ordinary to be in the UK in three hours later, after we had spent the last 10 weeks travelling every inch of the way over the ocean to get here. I glanced out the airplane window and watched the ocean below and the memories flooded back, I know that ocean surface, I know the flow of waves and the roll of the swell. Sipping tasteless tea from the airline cup and browsing the in-flight magazine I read about Neptune’s Grotto and smile as I recall climbing the steps all the way down there in Sardinia. It feels slightly sad to be leaving my dreamworld and heading north to what feels like reality, however I am so excited to see family and friends.

Stravaigin is booked for the week, chartered by the university to run a field course for its Marine and Coastal Tourism students and it is full, so no room for me though it is a perfect chance to return home for a short time. I had spent the last few days before I left, with the skipper cleaning, doing laundry and restocking the boat for the charter. J would be fully focused on the charter and busy with the students, some of whom had been my students some years ago and their lecturer, also my colleague. It would be rewarding for him to sail them around southern Sicily and treat them to the cuisine and waters of this delightful place. He had a great trip planned for them and was looking forward to sharing this environment with them.

As the bus pulled into Catania Airport, the conical shape of Mount Etna dominated the town. Smiling I remembered a brief trip here with Mum some years ago when she had asked me to accompany her on a cruise to the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. What a time we had and the morning we visited Sicily was no exception to our independent, alternative day trips. I had hailed a taxi once we were off the boat and it took us into the small town where mother spent her time looking for Italian leather handbags . After a cappuccino and much discussion over whether every black van she saw contained the Mafia, she spied the perfect one, a classy citrus lime green tote bag with gleaming silver toggles, a Furla I believe and she was delighted. We left a good few Euro lighter but it is a favourite bag that she uses even today. As we cruised through the straits of Messina later that night, I leant on the guard rail and watched Stromboli pass by, its orange and yellow eruptions lighting up the night sky. I never thought for one moment I might return here on my own boat, though the cabin and dining room would be just slightly smaller! I also remembered spending a lot of time on that cruise dodging the attentions of the ship’s maitre d’, a huge, persistent Italian who tried hard to gain my favour with offers of making me crepes at midnight on the upper deck and special Prosecco only the captain was treated to! I was obviously a fair target being the only women under 50 (at the time) and travelling with an elderly mother, however any time he tried to strike up a conversation in his slightly scary de Niro accent,  I would bring up all the trips of visiting Italy with my husband: him treating me to a weekend in Venice for my 40th, our early ski trips to Bormio as students, an impromptu visit to beautiful Rome where he had bought me a pair of vermilion Italian suede knee high boots, (after my kids and my engagement ring they would be next on the list to save if the house burnt down!). He walked off, his huge shape disappearing along the deck, muttering “Husband, husband” like it was a blasphemy. I was flattered but certainly not interested. It was rather sweet though towards the end of the cruise when he told me he had a villa in Sorrento and I plus –  THE HUSBAND – would be most welcome to use it anytime. I didn’t take his number though.

Landing at Gatwick it was not as cold as I expected but felt strange being on my own having been 24/7 with the captain. The connecting flight up north to Glasgow seemed so fast, remembering the tough sail we had south, from Oban to Ireland. Once landed in more northerly latitudes, the cold did hit me and my tan looked out of place. I was met by my sister in law and once we’d caught up on the family news, I dropped her off in the city and headed north. Driving through the dark glens, the hills looming above, some with a dusting of early winter snow, I was glad to be amongst them again.

A warm welcome and long awaited hug from Mum later that evening settled me, she was just fine, well looked after and cared for, thanks to family and friends. I slipped into the spare bed at her cosy house and felt a hot water bottle at my feet that she had popped in and smiled, once a Mum always a Mum.

“Och I thought you’d be cold pet” she said as she got into her own bed, sound asleep within minutes, glad her daughter was home. I glanced over to her room and smiled as I noticed a lime green tote bag sitting on her dressing table, she’s still got style. I lay for a while, feeling still in bed, after weeks of a moving bed it felt odd and hearing the neighbour’s dog barking and the local bus trundle by, such different noises from the sea bed I had become used to.

The next few days were a blur of visiting, catching up, chatting, hair cuts, bank business and sorting out mail. It was so great to see and touch my boys again, ruffle their hair and hear of their news. My eldest proudly told me of his big promotion at work and was now a senior project geologist, the middle had been accepted into the mountain rescue team and the youngest was enjoying his university course at Stirling and had moved in with his girlfriend. And the girls were in great form too, the bride-to-be had chosen her dress, was busy making table decorations and planning the day, my daughter-in-law had also been given a much deserved promotion at work and the little one had started at a law firm in the city only weeks after graduating. A great bunch in all.

I was looking forward to being in my home again, my sister-in-law proudly told me she’d cleaned it all ready for me, though when I heard my youngest was home with student friends and using it as base to do some hillwalking, I knew the tidy and clean house would maybe not be quite as I was hoping.  With the typical late autumn/early winter weather, the lounge was festooned with wet jackets and trousers draped over furniture to dry by the fire, boots on the hearth, maps covering the tables and rucksacks spilling out half eaten sandwiches and spare socks. Ah well it was still good to be back and situation normal for the Ormies! My lodger who is also a friend and colleague, was deep into her PhD and we chatted into the night about adventure, anthropology, travel and family. It was nice to have a different topic of conversation and to hear all the news from my department at college.

The cat glanced at me when I arrived with a cat type raise of an eyebrow and expression that said “Hmm you’re back?” but once I settled in my usual chair by the wood burner, he strolled over and climbed on my knee like old times.

After three days of rushing around helping sort out various dilemmas, like getting into a car that the youngest had inadvertently locked his keys in while parked at the foot of a mountain and looking after an abandoned student while his mother drove from the middle of nowhere to collect him, her phone forgotten at home and a month’s worth of guest house food left at our house by mistake, it felt like I never been away.

Once Mum was sorted with a fresh hair do, shopping, prescriptions and lunch dates, I headed up to Fort William to stay with my middle and fiancé. A lovely time going for lunches, nights in with a takeaway and walking my delightful little grand-dog, who gave me a warmer welcome than my cat! Then it was off to Glasgow to catch up with family there, including seeing the new flat my youngest and his girlfriend were renting and we headed out for veggie burgers. It was definitely strange having him drive me out to the airport as I had not been in the car with him since he had passed his test. It was an odd situation for him, as soon as he had gained his licence he headed out first to Guyana where he had ridden a beat up motorcycle over the savannah, then to Iceland to work and had driven huge ice trucks for the summer so down sizing to a VW Polo and driving on the central belt motorways, was a big change but he did fine and I arrived in one piece.

Waiting for my flight back down south I was tired but happy that I’d seen everyone and everyone was doing just fine. I was flying with a group of kick boxers, one a feisty wee lad with a hair cut and glint in his eye that was pure attitude and I giggled when we landed, his wee voice piped up over the heads of the passengers,

“Thanks Driver!”  got to love the weegies.

I was so excited to be going back and the day of travelling felt endless as I flew to London then Catania and waited for the bus to Marina di Ragusa. I sat on the bus watching the Sicilian countryside go by in the dark and though I had only three hours sleep the night before, I felt stoked. Finally we pulled up at my stop at the end of the line, the only passenger left on the bus and there he was standing under the tree, my captain.

It was wonderful to be in his arms again, feel the temperate air, smell the aroma of fig and warm earth. We headed straight to the soul bar for a Martini Spritzer and bite sized morsels of Sicilian cuisine, I felt back in the dream world.

Lying in my bunk again later that night, with the waves lapping round the boat, it felt good to be home.

Land of Gods and Heroes

These Waters

“.., And what we found

Down these coves of limestone and cockle shells,

What we found

Down these roads that wander as lost as the heart,

Is a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you

My my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start to you

Oh my a chance to breathe again, a chance for a fresh start

Oh, no, see these waters they’ll pull you up,

Oh, no, if you’re bolder than the darkness.

My my let these songs be an instrument to cut here darling,

These spaces between the happiness and the hardness,


Ben Howard


It would seem there is crime on this happy little holiday island as we realised the police motor boats, moored alongside us, were prisoner transfer boats and once or twice a blue lighted vehicle would drive up to the end of the pier and someone shrouded in a blanket was ushered aboard and off it sped. It did take 12 police men on one occasion to execute this procedure, but some were standing about smoking a fag while others chatted away. I had discovered there is a jail in the town but hadn’t thought much about it, I thought maybe it was like Inverary Jail, a visitor attraction with wretched looking dummies in cells hanging on to the bars. But these were no dummies. This quay provide plenty more entertainment as a large Sicilian, clad in black sweatpants and a well too small t-shirt, large gold chain round his neck, grey goatee and grey hair tied in a pony tail appeared with a skinny apologetic looking man at his side. They pulled on the lines of a large motor boat which was moored bow to, until the prow came close enough to the quay side for one to clamber aboard. We watched as there seemed to be some confusion who was going aboard and the wind was pulling at the boat as it strained backwards, when suddenly the skinny guy grabbed the hand rail and attempted to get on. He was committed, as his arms went with the boat and his legs remained on the dock! Oh jeez he’s in for sure I thought but, he threw one leg round the hand rail and hung on for all he was worth, while the large Sicilian shouted encouragement. The wee skinny guy was like a koala bear hanging on as the boat eased back and he actually managed to get the other foot on and scrambled across the deck before giving a thumbs up. We applauded as his boss shook his head, his hand across his eyes. I was exhausted watching him! He then had to manoeuvre the boat back to the quay to collect the boss which required much Italian gesticulating and shouting but he did it and somehow the pair swapped and Tony Soprano took off on his burgundy speed boat while Norman Wisdom stood on the quay waving fondly after him.

It was our last day in Favignana, the weather  forecast was good to go the following day to make the last hop down to the southern coast of Sicily and journeys’ end for now. Favignana threw out its worst, with winds that shrieked across the bay and sent Stravaigin in a choppy dance, threatening to bounce against the quay side, making us re-tie ropes and alter angles to make sure she did not contact the stone. I could not stay aboard as it was like being inside a bucking bronco so I went off on the bike for a last tour of the island. It was raining slightly but nothing that I’m not used to on Scottish bike rides so I enjoyed passing little farms with damp sheep, a black horse sheltering in a field barn, bee hives standing sentinel at the back of a wild flower carpeted field and snails everywhere. The locals were out with bags scooping them up. The rain got heavier and I attempted to ride up the hill to the fort at the top but a bolt of lightning scared me back and I stayed on the low ground until the rain became torrential! I took shelter in a wee café but there were literally rivers flowing from my trousers and jacket and I felt a bit awkward as the elegant Italian ladies sipped coffees, peering at me over designer glasses, so I zipped up my cagoule and headed out again. I raced back to the boat as lightning hit the town tower with a crack and boom that made me pedal faster!  The gods were obviously displeased! Back on the boat I dried out and we packed away the bikes and got the boat ready to leave at dawn the next day.

The sail down the coast was long, winds in the wrong direction so we had to motor quite a bit. Still sunny enough to get a bit of sunbathing in but beating in is tedious and makes me feel ill. We found an anchorage, of which there are not that many, near a breakwater and eased in to the shallower waters to drop the hook just as the light was fading. I was on deck with a torch and ready to anchor, just as I turned to the captain to ask if the depth was ok as it suddenly looked shallow when a shuddering motion made the boat feel very odd. We’d nudged into an unmarked submerged sand bank. It was like the D-day landings and I thought we were heading up the beach!

Full steam reverse MacPhail! Luckily J managed to pull her back in time and she freed herself from the bank and we were out in the bay again. Second time lucky and we anchored safely and settled down for the night though I was a little unnerved and kept checking out the hatch we were still ok.

Another early start the next day, last sail at sea was bright and sunny, some large bottlenose dolphins joined us for a while and endless Mediterranean jellyfish floated by in streams for  hours, large yellow, greenish circles flowing by.

We got our first glimpse of our new home for the winter at around 2 pm and a marinera sped out to meet us and get us tied up at E30 our berth for the winter.

Marina Di Ragusa seemed nice, modern marina with all we needed and looked what we hoped for when we booked it on the internet some months previously, always a risk. The town was lively and as we strolled along the promenade to the town square were greeted by an open air rock concert and a festival going on. A soul bar was serving free tapas with every drink so we settled in to this quite happily. Think we’re going to like this place.

We walked back to our berth at the end of the night feeling quite pleased with ourselves that we had made it, after 10 weeks to the day, we had sailed around 3,000 nautical miles and we were here safe and very happy. Now the next adventure begins!

The Fall

To My Love
An affirmation on an anniversary
After Shakespeare

Shall I compare you to an Autumn day?
The seasons, love, have grown more temperate.
Rough winds have shaken us along the way,
The summers gone too far to contemplate. 

Sometimes the going was tough but heaven sent
Its suns and moons and stars to gild our days.
Love was always in our element.
The hills of home tug inexplicably

And nights are drawing in as summer fades.
Possessions mean so little to us now. 
The seasons cast their shadows in our wake,
As we foregather to renew our vows.

I toast our years together in this sonnet.
This is our special day and you, my love, are in it. 
Lydia Robb


Carloforte was an ideal place to sit out the rough weather that had closed in over this area of the Mediterranean. Majorca had been badly hit by flooding and high winds and Sardinia was getting its fair share of storms. The marina was well sheltered and the little town had all we needed for a few days rest up. We built the bikes up and explored the town which was a network of alley ways and cobbled streets as well as a pretty, waterfront promenade. We found a cool bar on the front playing classy jazz music so we settled in for a Martini on the rocks for me and an Ichnusa, Sardinian beer for himself. Sipping that fragrant aperitif took me right back to high school parties, dressed up in a bright pink t-shirt dress with black ankle strap stilettos, Blondie playing loudly and the boys smelling of Denim aftershave and trying to be John Travolta in their tight white jeans! Fun days.

We were spoilt for choice for pizzerias and restaurants but trying to take hold of the spending a bit we ate onboard as I love cooking and the local produce was inspiring. We did treat ourselves to a pizza though and I had chosen a tuna one as this island, San Pietro, was the main processor of tuna and apparently it is world famous. Though I’m sure I’ve seen that claim on every town we visit. There is even a resort round the bay called Tonnero which is a tourist resort based on the tuna cull!

The island of San Pietro was also called the island of sparrow hawks and it is still the home for many raptors which we saw regularly, the pretty little Elenora falcon, buzzard, red kite and the beautiful peregrine falcon. I am captivated by raptors. I love seeing our golden eagles at home, especially the sea eagle, huge and majestic. Even the buzzards that fly around our home are beguiling with their colouring, flight patterns and plaintive cries. I used to want to practise falconry, I loved the idea of that bond between raptor and human, training a hawk, then flying them, the intricate accessories that accompany the art, the leather hoods and jesses. Ultimately though I prefer to see these stunning birds free and in their wild environment, being luckily enough to catch them soaring high on the hillside or diving down for a kill is thrilling enough. I had hoped on my visit to Mongolia to see the eagle hunters but we were in the wrong area of that vast country and I was travelling with the Buriat people who don’t practise this art, preferring to focus on horsemanship skills instead. These were immensely impressive skills as I watched young boys ride bare back on small strong horses at breakneck speed, playing a game involving a soft ball made of inflated cow or sheep stomach, tossed across the grass plain, then they all charge for it, leaning over off the side of the horse hanging on only to its long mane, so they can pick up the ball by hand and throw it on! Unfortunately though, the breakneck speeds, often do.

Cycling round the island later, I caught glimpses of these birds and a rare sight too of pink flamingos, tip-toeing across the marshy salt lagoon, plunging their hooked heads under the water to sift for shrimp. This area had been a big sea salt producer but the workings all lay in ruins, the metal work rusted, the water fences broken, however it was now being used as a nature sanctuary to encourage  birds and marine life to return and inhabit the lagoon.

Pedalling further along the coast I was in my element looking at all the different shrubs and plants along the road side, the pretty farms and albergos. One small holding had some fat hairy pigs snuffling round a large paddock, with a nice wooden shelter to give them shade, just the way pigs should be. The farms seemed to be resting after a long hot summer, some were burning off stubble, some fields had large bales of hay ready and the markets were full of autumn vegetables. Arriving at the coast we came across a geological site of which there are many round this island, a series of fossilised geothermal vents on the bed rock in a cove, fascinating. Then further on La Colonne, an arrangement of these vents, grown as columns, some towering out the water and other submerged below.

The island was recovering after a big storm the night before, when the boat was shoogled about on its lines, winds howling overhead, lightning and thunder that lasted for hours, I was so glad we were in a marina! The streets of the town were washed clean and the trees looked greener, thankful for a deluge of water. All round the coast though were banks of sea grass piled up and branches of palm and cactus washed up along with other debris. Sadly there was evidence also of plastic rubbish in some coves washed up. It is something we had not seem much off out in the eastern Atlantic but had been much more prevalent once in the Mediterranean and especially round the Balearics. It seems to be ubiquitous wherever we go and it makes us sad as humans that we have done this and the marine life has to put up with it. We had made a decision to scoop up what we could but it seemed impossible and we’d need to tow a raft behind to cope with it all. We resigned to be more vigilant when treating ourselves to a cheeky cocktail or ice cream and refuse a straw or plastic spoon and bought our own reusable steel ones, it really makes a difference as if no one wants the disposable ones, no one will sell them or then in turn no one will produce them. However it is a huge global problem brought close to our ocean home.

We tried to go for dinner on our last night to a groovy wee restaurant built into the cellars of the town but when we arrived it was all in darkness, we should have known though, as no one was about the streets at all. We did find a friendly taverna and had pasta with seafood washed down with a Sardinian Processco, not too shabby!

The weather forecast improved and after cleaning the boat inside and out, freshening up the laundry and ourselves, we took our leave of Carloforte and headed over to the mainland for our last night on Sardinia. It was a lengthy trip, good conditions but felt a bit tedious. Maybe I’m getting used to the wonders of sailing but you settle yourself into the routine of being underway and never think how long it would be if you were on land. Mostly we do between 5 and 7 knots which is basically 6-10mph, though it feels fast when you are sailing along! The coastline was beautiful, the inland hills and ridges were so tempting. I was longing to explore the higher places. Maybe on the way back.

Sailing yacht Stravaigin,  Stravaigin, Stravaigin, this is Italian war ship, do you read me?” Yikes! We went to the channel they requested and were politely told we had entered a restricted area and could we move out of it as quickly as possible? We asked if we could proceed on our heading to the anchorage were headed for and were granted permission but asked to increase speed if possible. We explained we were going as fast as our engine would allow but would do our best.

They were very nice and wished us well on our travels, as a huge rocket exploded on the hill side, sending black smoke high into the air above the bay we were passing, they were not kidding when they said they were undertaking a live exercise!

We increased our speed as best we could and left them to it, a sobering thought that just across the water on the north African coast there was a war taking place, so incongruous as we go about our travelling lifestyle and yet a nation is being ripped apart. We were following a larger yacht, a sail training boat for the joint forces and we both anchored in the same bay, Cala Tuaredda lovely spot with clear waters and a stretch of beach in front. We jumped in for a swim in the bay, the cadets jumped in and swam for shore, where the beach bar was still open!

We made sure we had an early night as the following morning we were leaving Sardinia and heading across to Sicily, an open crossing of two days and one night, our last for this year. I was kind of glad as I find these nonstop crossings a bit tough. I took all my medication and hoped for the best. The weather forecast was good though as soon as I went up on deck to raise the anchor early in the morning, the heavens opened and a torrential rain storm pelted down, I was soaked within minutes, knicker wetting weather!

However as is the norm, within no time, the sun was out and we dried off, though my shoes took all day as they seemed to have soaked up gallons!

The crossing was actually pleasant, winds to sail by initially and the sea state not too bad. However it built a bit meaning J doing the cooking as going below set me off. As we sailed into the night and darkness I took my watch as the stars peeped out and the sickle moon did its best to provide some light. I was treated to a few shooting stars, one with a long tail and mesmerising phosphorescence as our hull surged through the water. In my off times I tried to sleep but the noise was too much and I had been troubled by sinus headaches, for a few days which were worsening, so I dozed and felt glad I was returning home soon to a stable bed and the quiet of my home in the woods.

The night went fairly quickly with only a few ships passing by and we arrived amongst the idyllic Egadi Islands off Sicily’s north west coast. We dropped anchor in a town bay at Favignana, under the hillsides topped with a mediaeval fortress and the pretty almost Arabic looking houses lining the bay. A tidy up of the galley and back to bed to get some energy for getting ashore later.

The autumn weather was certainly changeable and regular lightning lit up the hill behind us with rumbles of thunder resonating around the bay. Rain showers got me out my bunk to close the hatch directly overhead and the wind set up the cacophony of mooring lines and anchor chain. That coupled with the church bells peeling on the hour made for a noisy but happening place! This little island was obviously a favourite visitor spot in the summer and we were glad we were here out of season. It had a charm to it at this time of year, the locals seemed relaxed and glad to slow down, the restaurants and gelaterias still open but reduced hours. I had received a welcome message from an ex student who was now a friend and colleague of my youngest son as they worked together in Iceland, he is a Sicilian and rightly proud of his country. He recommended a few places to visit on the island and said he was envious of us being here as he was now back in Iceland and it was getting cold. It must be quite a challenge living and working in the Arctic when you are used to warm waters and cruising about on a scooter in shorts and t-shirt. I love my job at the college for many reasons, my colleagues are great but my students are amazing. They never fail to impress me with their skills and dedication once they get started on the outdoor adventure course and it is rewarding to see where they end up at the end of the year, working all over the world. Many stay in touch and I love seeing how they continue to develop. I was sorry to miss graduation this year as I’d hoped to be there with them but we were not yet at our marina so I could  leave and fly back for it – I sent  them a congratulatory message and received many nice messages in return, I think they are quite proud really that their tutor is away on an adventure of her own.

We settled in for a couple of days on the islands as the weather for continuing was not good, benefits of this was enjoying the tuna which was on every menu and our first Canolo, a pastry like a brandy snap filled with sweetened ricotta cheese. We sailed for a night round to Calla Rotunda which was an idyllic circular cove with clear waters and interesting rock structures. A few visitors cycled over to the cove and lay in the sun then swam to cool off. It seemed mainly couples enjoying time together, some enjoying their time a little too earnestly but hey ho, as my Mum would say:

“It’s the heat, it gets them all bothered!”

The waters were so clear we could see hundreds of fish all around our boat, time for a spot of that fishing game again! J dropped in a few bread crumbs and bits of cheese which were devoured and brought more in however as soon as he stealthily lowered his baited hook, they took off! Not to be.

Once the sun went behind the hill that dominates the island, one by one,  the day trippers shook off towels, packed rucsacs, put on shoes and pedalled off leaving as all alone in this little cove. It was heaven making dinner with the vegetables from the market, zucchini fritters, juicy tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, fresh spinach leaves with cream cheese then eating out on deck with the orange and gold of the setting sun as a back drop. I tried hard to capture the moment and feeling, thinking one day I will be old and tired, I must remember these halcyon days, being bronzed, hair sun-bleached and feeling young again with my man. It had been a tough year with tragic losses of two friends, a sore loss to us as friends but more so, a desperate loss to their wives left behind. My heart went out to those brave, strong women having to carry on for the sake of their families but aching inside for a part of them gone.

The night was so peaceful only punctuated by the sweeping beam of a nearby light house and the occasional fishing boat passing by the entrance to the cove sending small waves to rock us. We were set to leave at first light in the morning for the crossing to the mainland of Sicily, a long day, but as the captain checked the updated weather he announced we were going back to the town as the weather was not looking good for a comfortable ride. We had a stiff sail back to Favignana, anchored back in the bay then promptly went back to bed to catch on sleep. The next day we took advantage of the Italian government’s scheme of free berthing at town quays, so came stern to and secured a spot right next to the Polizia boats, reckoning should be safe enough! I was mystified by some policemen who were looking intently into the water by the quay, more and more joined them, then one appeared with a bag. Oooh, maybe there is contraband thrown in the bay? The scene of a crime? A hook was let done attached to a line – and an octopus was hauled up ! They all looked very happy and carried it down into the galley of the police boat, then promptly motored off – for essential training exercises of course! One boat was left at the quay with a police man in the cabin on look out, who promptly fell asleep in the sun, presumably not much crime on Favignana.

We got the bikes out and did a fabulous tour of the other end of the island, exploring the coastline, fascinated by the endless Roman quarries of tuff stone that pocked the ground inland and at the coast. Calla Rossa was amazing with azure blue waters so we stripped off and went for an impromptu swim, J realising we could anchor here the next day if the wind directions were good. It was clear that in the season these coves would be packed with tourists in the coast and boats in the bay – lucky again we were out of season. We followed the lovely wee cycle track that led round the coast, enjoying the little fields delineated by stone walls and beautiful trees and plants everywhere. The aroma of fig, aniseed, wild mustard and mimosa scented the air and I breathed it in deeply.

Back in town we explored the streets and many shops selling every kind of product from tuna, it being a huge part of the history of the island. Blue fin tuna had been fished here for centuries, the migrating shoals passing through the islands gave rise to massive hunts, the mattanza, where they were herded, hauled up in nets and using gaffs, men proved their strength by hauling in fish which can grow as big as 600kg! The strongest and fittest fisherman hailed as heros. A local business man had built a huge processing plant in the town where they apparently came up with the process of preserving tuna in olive oil in tin cans with keys to open them. The bonanza did not last of course, the tuna stocks fell drastically, fish being caught weighing a mere 50kg and it was stopped. The elaborate tonnaro buildings lying empty, their blank eyed windows looking out over the bay, the chimneys dormant, the slipways clean. I thought about the stories of herring on our east coast, cod in the north sea, basking shark on our west coast, whales in the Atlantic.., Will we ever learn? I’m proud to be Scottish but I am sometimes ashamed to be human.

Sea People of Shardana

Translations: Dante – Inferno Canto XXVI

“.., Both shores I visited as far as Spain, 

Sardinia, and Morocco, and what more

The midland sea upon its bosom wore.

The hour of our lives was growing late

When we arrived before that narrow strait

Where Hercules had set his bounds to show

That there Man’s foot shall pause, and further none shall go


Alan Seeger

Sardinia smells delicious, it seems to be marinating itself in all the herbs that grow thickly across it, rosemary, myrtle, mastic and juniper. I can smell it all round the coastline as we cruise along and know which way the wind is coming from, depending on the aroma I can detect.

The last few days have been delightful, the first real chance to just cruise leisurely down the coast and explore the places we come across. We’re on good time so can afford to relax a little.

However, we learned our lesson about relaxing too much as the first morning we woke after the crossing, I poked my head out the hatch to realise we were not where we anchored the previous night but around a third of a mile out the head of the bay! Luckily we came to no harm, the bay was open, the wind direction meant we were only further out than we started but we’d been so tired the night before, after no sleep for two days and an energetic crossing and we had set the anchor alarm but had ignored it in the middle of the night when it was warning us we were dragging.

Sailing takes no prisoners, one small slip always comes back to bite you.

We motored out that bay and round to the head of another, with a large stretch of beach and green forests behind. A cool but lengthy swim to shore, in the Bai di Conte, for a walk along the beach then back for roast chicken with sautéed courgettes, including dessert of baked bananas with Dolce Leche, cream and butter biscuits – my version of a deconstructed Banoffi Pie! I love cooking when I can and the conditions are right. It is inspiring having all the amazing local produce to play with. The weather seems to have taken a turn all of a sudden. It is still sunny and hot during the day but the winds are fresher and the evenings cool.

We decided to do our tourist bit, as after all we are tourists and motored over to Calla Calcina and took one of the visitors moorings provided there. This meant we could dinghy ashore and walk over the high headland at Capo Caccia to the other side and access Grotto di Neptune, one of the top visitor spots on Sardinia. Maria had told us about this place too and she had visited twice, however we were not warned about the endless stone steps that lead down to it, worse on the way back up! It was well worth it though, an amazing feat of engineering and labour to create the staircase cut into the side of these towering limestone cliffs and the grotto was pretty cool though we declined to join the crowd waiting for the 2 o’clock tour of the inner chambers, preferring to  enjoy the cliff scenery which we found more awe inspiring.

A welcome café bar back at the top served up the finest Caprese salad we’ve had to date with mozzarella that simply oozed fresh cream and mingled delectably with the tomatoes and fresh green olive oil, accompanied by some buttery flat breads, it was well worth every step. It was great being off the boat and being active, I loved walking around examining all the plants and shrubs and picked some of the abundant rosemary for roast potatoes later.

Back on the boat after a swim to freshen up we headed off in time to reach Alghero which was just round the next bay and took a berth at the SerMer marina, advertised at a very cheap rate. The town of Alghero is delightful, little cobbled streets and alley ways with bars, cafes, gelateria and restaurants everywhere. First things first and domestic duties to do, we trailed up to the auto laundry in town and had our first Italian cappuccino while waiting, but cross with the marina as they said they had a laundry at the marina which was not the case plus the showers are very ropey with a token that only lasted 3 mins before the water runs out. Any lady knows to do a full shower including the defuzzing of the legs, shampoo plus condition of long hair is a big ask in 3 mins! Anyway after doing the personal and domestic admin we had a lovely wander into town and treated ourselves to a pasta lunch. It was a bit disappointing though and J complimented me that my spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce we had the night before had been better. Accolade indeed given we are in Italy! Although there are a fair number of visitors about we get the feeling everything is slowing down and receding into the autumn and winter routine, probably the chefs are using up the last of the stocks before closing down for a well earned rest.

On our return we tried to haggle with the marina guy for a cheaper second night as the published price was not the actual price and we were not prepared to pay £60 for two nights, especially given the lack of decent facilities but no go so we popped round the breakwater to anchor out in the bay. Felt a little conspicuous as the best anchor spot was literally across the wall from his office and his window looked right at us but hey ho, we are the thrifty Scots! We could still get the free WiFi though so made use by catching up with folks at home and a nice chat with Mum. Felt a bit homesick as everyone is telling me they are missing me and “Scotland is not the same with out me” according to Maria, brought a wee tear to my eye.

Headed further south the next day after a shower of rain in the morning, the first since Tangiers, and dropped the hook in a fabulous little river estuary cove near the small town of Bosa. There were greenish grey cliffs around us due to the copper in the rock and it formed a small bowl with us right in the middle. There were fish jumping everywhere that tempted the captain to try his luck. What a performance! Firstly he strapped the rod to the stern presumably to tackle the immense tuna he was going to catch and let out the lure in the evening and left it overnight to see if anything bit. The next morning after a fair bit of wind, the line had been tangled round the dinghy and lure had gone! I detangled it all and he put some more bait and hooks on and tried again. First throw it got caught in the rigging causing much foul language. Next throw it catapulted over the solar panels and after a tug to “free” it, cut through the lines and the hooks fell to the sea bed.

I haven’t the patience for this!” He promptly declared and packed up the rod, as I tried unsuccessfully, to stifle much giggling.

“We’ll buy some fish pet” I consoled.

We hopped on the dinghy and motored up the river to the town of Bosa and was  simply a delightful wee ride. The river banks were lined with tall bamboo, old olives trees, groves of twisted pines and wharfs with small pretty boats, all tied up side by side. We passed large rambling villas with over grown gardens, relics of a time when the Europeans holidayed here, now disused and abandoned. We reached the town centre, tied up the tender and went ashore for a wander. It was a lovely wee town, very rustic, rural and authentic.  We enjoyed a coffee and a gelatarie, very cheap at £1.50 each for huge scoops of creamy homemade ice cream, flavoured with nuts and fresh fruits. I fear I may return resembling a loaf of bread, brown and crusty on the outside and doughy in the middle! However the cuisine is just too nice and apart from the ice cream is all healthy, sort of.

We noticed some very dressed up ladies, teetering around on high heels, clutching sparkly bags and continually preening themselves, guest for a wedding! We came across it later in a lovely old cathedral, the doors wide open and the couple sitting in sumptuous chairs at the alter with the priest conducting the ceremony. I felt a pang of excitement at the thought of our forthcoming family wedding when our middle son marries his sweetheart in the mountains of Catalonia. It is lovely having this connection here in Sardinia as a lot of it is Catalan, the language spoken by quite a few of its people and some places names are derived from Catalan. I was intrigued to realise that sardines are named after the island and the Phoenicians named the people, sea people of Sardus or Shardana, which later became Sardinia.  Indeed another friend told me her family are descendent from this area which was historically Royaume of Savoie, Piedmont Sardaigne which included Sardinia and Nice and apparently was neither French nor Italian! An interesting heritage indeed.

We bought a delicious selection of cheese from some pretty girls in a deli who were happy to explain what they were and I left with Gorgonzola, Pecorino, Parmigiana and fresh Buffalo Mozzarella along with curious shaped bread made from semolina flour and a bag of the freshest local vegetables, all for a few pounds. I was planning what to make for dinner that night already!

Motoring back down the river with our bounty, we kept smiling at each other, thankful for our good fortune to be experiencing this together. We left the anchorage in calm sunshine, all the goodies packed away and set course for a small island, Isola di Mal Vente, where we planned to spend the night.

I had a lovely chat with all my special people on the way and caught up with their news and plans. It made me feel closer to them all, even though I am so far away but also homesick for them too. I am looking forward to my trip back home later in the month. This is the longest I have ever been away from home since being an adult. As a teenager I spent a year as a nanny in Washington DC, Somerset then London for a few months at a time but since grown this is definitely the longest and it does feel odd. I’m loving the travelling and seeing a new place almost every day. I love the different places, the foods, the sights, the landscape and I love being outdoors all the time. Two months sleeping on the water and swimming in the sea almost every day. Two months living simply with just what we have on board, mind you, that is a lot! But I miss the contact with my family, my Mum, my in-laws, my pals, my sons and their girls, even my grand dog! Yup, time for a visit home. But not too long at home, it will feel strange, I don’t want to break the spell of this magical time.

So we reached the mysterious island of Mal di Vente, misnamed from a translation of “ bad winds” to “bad stomach pains”! And it should have been an omen! It was pretty lumpy coming in and we did spy a nice calm bay but the cruising pilot suggested a bay further round so we went with it and found there were mooring buoys there. An American  boat was already on one, the occupants swimming back to it from shore, so we opted to take the other. I was charged with attaching us to the buoy by use of a docking stick that hooks the eye of the buoy and allows a rope to be threaded through. The rope is then attached to a bigger rope with a length of chain in the middle that ideally gets slipped through the metal of the eye on the buoy. Ok, all very well. So I go to the bow with my contraption and lengths of rope, hanging on to the rigging with one hand as it is very windy,  bouncy and slippy. Captain eases us towards the target and first go with the long plastic hook, I manage to attach the small line through the eye.  It is very windy and near to some rocks so the captain was focusing on keeping us on line. So far so good. However I can’t thread the larger rope through the eye as the joining knot is too big to pass through! It gets yanked ahead of the boat and I try to hang on to the pole, my arms being dragged across the deck. All the while the wind is blowing a hoolie and the waves are bouncy us all over the place.

“Just tie it on to anything” yells the captain.

“I’m trying. but I can’t get the knot through the eye”

As J can’t see what is going in at the bow due to the canopy being in the way, or hear over the noise of the wind and the waves and his unsolicited advice is not helpful. I pull hard on the line, fearful I might break it but it was either the stick or my arm! However, just then the whole mooring buoy lifts clean out the water and up to the deck – great!- so I push the large rope through and drop it back down thinking mission complete, but no, the other end of the rope needs attached to the boat at the cleat. Oh jeez, ok, I manage to pull the rope tight enough to get an end which is rapidly being pulled out my hands as the yacht is being pushed backwards by the wind when the captain calmly strolls up to the bow asking,

“Is everything all right?”

“It is now” I gasp, tying the rope to the cleat, my hands numb from pulling , my wrists having lost a layer of skin as the rope pulled through and my knees scraped from being hauled across the deck!

Anyway, we were safely on, though the swell was awful as we were sideways on to the swell and wind blowing from the bow, the worst conditions.

I decided to go in the water as it sometimes sorts out my nausea/inner ear imbalance so lowered into the choppy water for a swim. J joined me and we swam around a bit, I wanted to swim to shore to explore – or camp the night in a stone bothy I spied! – but it was very choppy so settled for a swim round the boat then back on, dried and time to cook dinner. I planned a nice meal of some of the nice produce we’d bought of sauté aubergine with grated parmigiana, roasted potatoes with rosemary and green beans with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil however one minute down below in the galley to switch the gas on, I promptly returned and stated the captain would have to make tea!

I edited the menu plan and ended up only managing to eat some boiled potatoes before retreating to the back cabin, as it gets a little less motion, medication washed down with hot chocolate, my remedy, and lay in bed feeling very sorry for myself. I do hate been afflicted by sea sickness and am getting weary of feeling rough on a regular basis.

Island of the bad stomach indeed!

This tiny island had a poignant history though as I later learned in 2008 a former truck driver, Salvatore Meloni and his followers seized Mal di Ventre and declared it to be an independent state as part of a controversial effort to win the independence of Sardinia. Meloni declared himself president of the Republic of Malu Entu and set up a presidential residence in a blue plastic tent! He declared the nation tax free and claimed that over 300 people wanted to move there. He was later charged with tax evasion to the sum of five million euros and in 2012 Meloni was convicted for his role in trying to take over the island and sentenced to 20 months in prison. Last year, Meloni was arrested and started a hunger strike in prison, asking to be considered a political prisoner but sadly died after two months. Got to admire his convictions though.

The next morning J hadn’t slept too great either so at daylight he pronounced,

“Let’s make like the shepherd and get the flock out of here!”

As soon as we were underway, it felt so much better and after a breakfast of instant oats – another fail safe remedy – the sail to Buggerru (yes that is not a typo!) was delightful. We passed a small island called Isola Catalunya that Maria had visited with her family, I hoped we could return to Sardinia with her one day and she can show us around as he is very familiar with it.

Decided against the bay at Buggerru as it looked a bit open to the wind direction and slightly uninteresting so sailed on another hour to Calla Domestica which was perfect. A tiny cove with two small sandy beaches, high sandstone cliffs all around and interesting ruins on the shore line. Once settled, we swam ashore in the turquoise waters and bought a Cornetto at the wooden temporary beach bar from a smiling girl with long dreadlocks and nose piercings. We later learned why she was so happy as it was the bar’s last day, that evening we saw them vigorously deep cleaning everything and the next day numerous trips by tractor, removing the rental pedalos, sitontop kayaks and decking, the commercial summer now at an end .

We walked round the bay, then swam back for dinner which I was happily able to make and eat! A nice quiet night all by ourselves in the cove, the Sunday day trippers gone and eventually were the only yacht in the bay. There had been another French boat during the day that left as the sun went down but only after  a bit of a pantomime as they managed to break their anchor windlass after trying to pull the anchor up while reversing at full speed! Not one of the six men aboard seemed to have a clue what to do so J offered to swim down and attach a rope to the anchor so they could attach it to a winch and at least get it on board however they decided to haul the anchor up by hand and slowly limped off hanging onto it while waving a grateful farewell to us! It takes all kinds.

That night, we settled in for “movie night”, a great favourite when we convert the salon to a home theatre with lots of cushions and covers, low lighting, surround sound and of course popcorn, though it felt strange watching a movie about the end of the world in this calm, sheltered cove in Sardinia.

Well the end of the world nearly occurred overnight, as a huge storm kicked off during the night with howling winds wakening me and causing us to check the anchor alarm. The noise of the winds howling over us and the remnants of the breakers dancing around the cove made me feel very glad we were tucked safely inside here and not out at sea!  All was well though in the morning, the winds died down, the waters of the cove a bit choppy but the sun was out. A quick swim to freshen up as we had the cove all to ourselves then off round the coast to the holiday island of Isola di San Pietro and a marina in the main town, that J had researched and been assured of a good price. I was looking forward to a calm berth, a roomy shower and laundry to freshen up the linen and towels. Guiseppe, our friendly marinera zipped out in his rib to meet us at the breakwater and ushered us in to this delightful little marina, SiFredi. Home for the next few days to wait out the forecasted stormy weather and sample the delights of Carloforte.

Star Sail to Sardinia

Sail away
Oh, come sail away with me

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in-between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me to another world
And we rely on each other, ah-ah
From one lover to another, ah-ah
Barry Gibb / Maurice Ernest Gibb / Robin Hugh Gibb

We pointed the prow east and headed away from Menorca, a setting sun biding its farewell as we surged forward. The winds were light but a favourable direction and we felt confident setting out on our predicted 36 hour crossing. Gales were predicted for later tomorrow so we wanted to get well ahead of them. The skipper went below to catch some rest before his watch and I had Stravaigin all to myself. We’re getting on fine, this big lady and me, I know J is glad his girls are getting along better now. I understand her more now and can handle her, most of the time. She still likes to show me her power now and then though, it scares me but I’m learning how to control her. She is strong but I’m coming to realise, so am I. As the light of the day faded I was enchanted as the stars gradually gleamed through the evening sky, the seas so calm at times the planet Venus was reflected back up at me in a watery glow. No moon tonight so far but the gaining light of the stars blinking over me, a canopy of twinkles, was enough for me to see clearly without the need for a torch. At night we use a red light in the cabin and have red light on our headtorches so as not to disturb our night vision. It is amazing how much you can see at night unaided.

The Milky Way arched over us as we sailed along and I gazed up at it for ages, distracted only by a shooting star then a satellite passing over. How clever we humans are, at times, to invent such things that are taken for granted now, I was glad of this little robot flying through the stratosphere pinging back my position to me and giving me a location on this planet when I want it. The dark blue silk of the sky was a backdrop for blinking aircraft making their way from north to south, at one point their navigation lights were reflected on the surface of my ocean, it was so still.

I recalled another magical starry night, high in the Himalayas, when I couldn’t sleep in the teahouse we were camped at and crept out into the freezing night so as not to disturb the slumbering hikers, lying like sardines one next to the other. I sat on a low stone wall and tried to take it all in, the silvery snow capped peaks, the graphite grey of glaciers in the deep night and then the stars. More stars than I have ever seen before or since, the night sky encrusted like a jeweller’s cloth of velvet folded open to reveal diamonds of every size and shape, sparkling and glinting, shining and blinking. And I cried. I’m not sure why, it was just so incredibly beautiful. My emotions couldn’t contain it, I felt part of it, privileged and humbled by being a small human sitting alone in a stony field on the roof of the world. I had little ambitions as a wee girl growing up in Glasgow, apart from to be a mum, all I wanted was babies, anything else was a bonus. Oh and I guess a fellow had to be part of the picture too! But as I grew I came to love and yearn for high places, due to the exceptional childhood my parents had afforded me. Some of my earliest memories are of lying on a wooden platform in a mountain bothy, tucked up in my down bag, the smell of damp wool, leather climbing boots and Erinmore tobacco drifting up from the social space below and hearing the deep voices of climbers and walkers sharing tales of the day by the fire and sipping Drambuie from a hip flask. And days of clambering up stony paths, my small rucsac on my back with my favourite doll ‘s head peaking out the top ( well she had to see what was going on too!), stopping to drink from the clear waters of the burn and snacking on oatcakes with raspberry jam, always raspberry jam. I didn’t recall how may mountains I climbed with my father, their names and locations were irrelevant, but the memories were logged as Quality Mountain Days, important, cherished. I still have scars on my knees where I stumbled on boulders or grazed them as I climbed up the rock faces. Looking down on the world when we reached he summit, I felt special and part of the wild landscape and that feeling had always remained. It is a pity my father did not live to know I became a mountain leader and guide, following his passion for wild places. I bet he’d never guess also that I took to the seas like him, though my vessel is a lot smaller than the huge cargo ships and tankers he travelled the world in. I am a lot like in him in many ways and I am sure my slightly crazy spontaneity came from him. I remember when I was young, still at primary school, just as I was getting ready for bed one January, moonlit night he said,

“Come on Mary Ellen (one of his many crazy pet names for me) we’re going skiing!”

I never questioned these mad jaunts, so an hour later I found myself bundled up in woollens, my wooden cross-country skis strapped to my feet, the bindings adapted from his old telemark ones, flip flipping as I pushed along, following his trails in the crisp, freshly laid snow, sliding our way along the foot slopes of the Campsies. I remember the stars that night as we sat on a steel cold rock and him telling me the names of some. The Plough, Orion, his belt and Sirius, his dog. He knew so much and I wished I’d listened to him more and remembered everything he taught me. I loved the part he wrote in his journal when I was around three years old, he had made a wooden chair that he strapped to his back and would take me off up a local hill like Ben Lomond or The Cobbler ..,

“ Wee Eilid is a delight to take out on walks, she marvels at all the tiny things and stops to bend down and watch black shiny beetles scamper across her path and insists on “rescuing” any slugs lying on the path in case they get squashed!”

He would buy me books, World of Wonder series or something like that and I would pour over them at night: Mountains, The Oceans and The Human Body.

I loved the Mountain one and delighted in the pictures of the Alpes, The Pyrenees, The Andes and especially The Himalayas, I never imagined I would be on those peaks one day. The Ocean one fascinated me too but I do remember the middle pages were of the deep sea and the creatures that inhabited these black domains. I was terrified of them, the fish that were just a head with rows of jagged teeth, illuminating the dark with phosphorescence, bony skinny skeletons and huge eyes. I used to hold those pages together with my fingers and turn them quickly so I couldn’t see them! Perhaps those scary creatures were slowly winding their way over 2,000m below me right now! And The Human Body, I loved that one, the muscles and bones, the make up of the eye and the funny names for the wee bones of the ear, but my favourite  was the pages showing how new humans were formed. The growing embryo from wee tadpole and seed, joining to become a kidney bean, then a weird salamander thing and finally a tiny baby growing bigger and chubbier each month. I couldn’t believe that my body had the capacity to do this. And it did, five times resulting in three perfect baby boys, still the greatest wonder to me. We think we are so clever as humans to invent metal things that fly round the earth or that dive to the bottom of the ocean to shine light in the darkest chasms but the real wonder is how we can make new human beings, it all goes on inside us women for nine months as we go about us daily business.

These urges to just go outside, into the wild, have been there all along and still remain with me. When we were first married and living in Inveraray I recall sliding back into bed on a sunny Sunday early morning and J sleepily reaching over to caress me, then slightly perplexed saying,

“You’re roasting!”

“I just ran up Dun na Cuaiche”

“What! Why?”

“Well I woke up early, it was sunny and I felt like it”

“You’re mad!”

Maybe, but I reveal in being out and up there when no one else is, seeing the deer grazing warily in the corries, the mists clearing as the warmth of the day burns them off.

I see it in my sons too. Phoning my middle son one Sunday evening recently and enquiring after his weekend he nonchalantly told me,

“Well it was a sunny day, Maria was working so I ran the Anoach Eagach yesterday and today I went and ran the Carn Mhor Dearg arête as well”

Hmm, like mother like son.

The wind ruffled the surface and I could feel Stravaigin heel over. I checked the auto helm so I could put her back on the right heading if I had to take over, I checked the wind speed and it was building. The direction was changing too and soon the head sail was flapping and our speed was falling as we tried to stay on course. I took charge and furled the headsail, tightening up the main sail, started the engine and settled us down on a more direct course. I glanced down below and J was curled up dozing, I felt pleased that he trusted me to trim the sails and look after her properly.

Some time after he appeared, smile on his face and we shared a hot chocolate before I went for my sleep. We decided on two hours on and three hours off, through the night, though J was happy to do a bit longer. I nestled down, curled in at the side of the bunk as she was quite heeled over now, the wind strengthening. I lay for ages but couldn’t sleep. Maybe I was too “on” to dip into real sleep. I rested though but all too soon it was 1am and my watch again. She was really going now, seven knots and surging through the waves, a good wind direction too, a beam reach. The swell was building a bit too but I still felt confident. It was cooler now so for the first time since leaving Ireland I had to put on a fleece jacket and went through the watch routine of looking out all around and checking the AIS for ships or other boats. Only a tanker seven miles off and another yacht who was running parallel to us but in the opposite direction were sighted. I was pleased to recognise the yacht was showing the wrong coloured lights as he had his steaming and navigation lights on together giving confusing messages.

The winds really were blowing now and started gusting to 28knots at times. A white flash filled the sky startling me – lightning! I had heard horror stories of lightning at sea and ships being struck with bad results. A tall tower of storm clouds were gaining on us and the sky was darkening. Again, flashes of electric white, then out of nowhere, pelting rain and a surge in the winds.

“Darling, I need you!” I shouted over the din of the wind, down below into the red cabin. “Eh, there’s lightning and I’m worried!”

“Put the hand held instruments in the oven” he stated as he came up and took the helm, while I pulled out the water proofs.

“Its fine babe” he said reassuringly “It’s only a storm squall”

“Ok”  I said gingerly, while clinging onto the sides, soaked by the rain, my life lines reassuringly clipped on the hand rails.

The stars had crept quickly back under their midnight blue blankets, the sky now a roof of darkness, pale cumulus nimbus clouds baring down on us.

Thankfully the squall didn’t last long though, soon the rain stopped, the clouds lightened but the winds stayed. I sat up with J for a while then went below to try to sleep. No good, I gave up at 5am and came up again and we shared porridge for breakfast as we vainly tried to make out land ahead, convincing ourselves we could see it.

The swell had built after the storm surge and the waves had heightened too, most from the same direction but occasionally a rogue one hit us and sent the boat in an unpleasant bounce. And the waves were breaking on the tops, foam surging down the face of them, spray hitting us occasionally. J took the helm as the auto pilot was not managing to keep her steady enough. The troughs in the swell seemed so far down then rising over the tops we surfed down the back of the waves, time and time again. Water poured along the gunnels, a large wave broke into the cockpit, soaking J up to his knees. We were well reefed in and she was handling well but I found it disconcerting. If I felt scared though I only need glance at the skipper, he was in his element, smiling and confident, controlling her with the large leather bound wheel, oh well must be ok! Luckily as I had patched up I had no sickness but fear kept me alert, charged.

Three hours we powered through the waves, J at the helm looking more and more weary though as the hours went on. Daylight had revealed land finally, Sardinia, but it never seemed to get any closer. I was braced in the cockpit, my back against the seat, my feet on the side of the central table, rise and fall, rise and fall. I only allowed myself to look round the side of the spray canopy to see ahead and the distant shape of the island slowly becoming more discernible. Looking round too often was frustrating as it didn’t seem to change.

Gradually though it did transform, the colours became apparent, pink stone cliffs, green hillsides, the surface of the seas in a haze of spray and breaking waves. We could see the headland now and a lighthouse on the summit. The cliffs were enormous. We had thought of going into an area near Neptune’s Grotto as there was a special anchorage there but it was quite tricky in most conditions and would be impossible in these.

Any port in a storm.

I’m not going to the original place we talked about” stated the captain. “I’m going to the big bay round from it, its nearer.”

“That’s fine!” I yelled over the noise of the waves.

Bit by bit we crept closer and slowly edged our way past the towering cliffs and finally into the lee of the land, becoming sheltered from the swell and waves.

Oh the peace, the calm, the sanctuary! The boat levelled, the sails loosened, and we calmly flowed into a sheltered bay, passing a beige, round, medieval lookout tower.

Hills and tree covered slopes all around us. It was beautiful and safe.

I lowered the anchor into the tranquil, turquoise waters of the bay, tidied away the night’s debris and put a pizza in the oven. And poured a rather large rum and ginger beer! We had been awake now for 36 hours but the actual crossing had been faster than we’d thought due to the strong winds and we had arrived late afternoon.

Welcome to Sardinia! Saluti!” We toasted each other. A good team. After eating our fill, we pulled the sheet over us and fell into an exhausted but satisfied sleep. Exploring could wait until tomorrow.


The Balanguera ( Anthem of Majorca)

The mysterious Balanguera,

like a spider of subtle art,

empties, oh, empties her spinning wheel

and pulls off the thread of our lives.

Like a Parca she ponders well,

weaving the cloth for tomorrow.

The Balanguera spins, spins,

the Balanguera will spin.

Turning her glance to the past

she guards the shades of ancestry

and of the new spring

she knows where the seed is hidden.

She knows that the vine-stock climbs up higher

the deeper its roots can go.

From traditions and from hopes

she weaves the flag for the youth

as one who prepares a wedding veil

with hairs of gold and silver

of the childhood that grews up

of the old age who goes away.

Words by Joan Alcover i Maspons (Spanish Balearic writer, poet, essayist and politician)

Music by Amadeu Vives (Catalan composer)


As we rounded the headland they flew out in pairs, wheeling, zipping, a couple dancing in the sky, their talons locked in a choreography of pairing. Beautiful but devious little falcons, the Eleonora Falcons, nesting high in the sand coloured cliffs, breeding late in the season as they take advantage of tired little migratory birds to feed on. One of these tiny, brave but strong migrants, whirled round the boat and landed on the rigging, clinging tight. It clung on while we rounded the cliff and headed into a beautiful sheltered bay, tall scrub covered steep hill sides all around. It flipped off the stays and flew into the protection of the trees, a lucky escape. The falcons continued their hunt over the seas, their annoyed cries carrying over the waves. These small hobbys have a clever but macabre habit of catching live prey, removing their flight feathers then imprisoning them live in rocky crevices to feed on, or feed to their chicks, later if pickings are scant. Getting their name from Eleanor of Arborea, Queen and national heroine of Sardinia who was the first person to grant protection over nesting hawks and falcons, they seemed like characters from Game of Thrones to me.

We settled for the night, after a swim in this clear water cove, an amphitheatre surrounding by steep hillsides and all to ourselves. We had reached this area of the island successfully on the second attempt and had a brilliant sail up the north western coast of Majorca towards Pollensa but decided not to go in to Pollensa bay and stop instead at this secluded anchorage before heading over to Menorca. The coastline of Majorca was stunning, lined with steep cliffs, high inland mountains and stunning coastal geomorphology, a view not afforded to those on the land. It is a beautiful island so diverse and varied in landscape. Before leaving Porte Soller we had an interesting encounter with a chap hailing himself as the “second in command of the base” at the marina we were berthed in. He came over to our boat, appearing very flustered and quite perturbed. I was my usual cheery, charm offensive self and once he’d introduced himself I said I was pleased to meet him and could I help him?

Well it turned out he took great exception to the flag we were flying, the Catalan flag. I feigned ignorance saying I thought it was the flag for Majorca but he went purple and stated it was not and was for Catalan independence! Really?? He demanded we take it down and if it was still there in the morning he would call the police! Hmm, well we behaved ourselves and took it down, but it seems Spain is the only country that does not allow this flag to be flown, pity. If a Spanish poet and a Catalan composer can work together to produce an anthem for an island of great beauty, it is sad that this is not the case in the current political situation. Perhaps they should listen to their song .., “weaving the cloth for tomorrow”.

We set off for Menorca in the morning, excited to be visiting a new place. Since leaving Port Ellen on Islay every single place we had visited up until Palma, had been for the first time which felt pretty special. Revisiting Majorca had been lovely as we had now seen it from a different aspect and reminisced about the years spent holidaying there with John’s family. Our three boys had idyllic childhood trips, swimming in the pool in the dark with the underwater lights on and visits to their favourite restaurant for prawns in garlic oil and Argentina steaks, their interest in good food stimulated from an early age. Happy days.

Arriving at Calla San Tandria in Menorca was exciting, after a pleasant sail over, a beautiful anchorage with small houses dotted around the linear bay. The architecture is very different to Majorcan and seems a more low-key island. It is flatter then I expected and has a classy feel to it.  We stayed the night, enjoying the clear warm waters for a swim and watching the sunset along with folks who wandered out to the headland to observe this nightly spectacle. It is strange how we humans like to watch the sun go down, it almost seems mystical. We moved on the next day as we had checked the forecast and really needed to be heading over to Sardinia soon as there were gales expected and I certainly didn’t want to be dealing with that.

The coastline of Menorca was also beautiful but in a different way, with beige cliffs, lots of caves and arches and little tourist development. We were heading for Cala Coves but had discussed visiting Cova d’en Xoroi where there is a bar and restaurant built  into a large cave that Maria had told us about and I was keen to visit. It was a bit disappointing when we got there to realise we could not get close enough to it, to safely anchor the boat and walk round as it would be half a mile away which is too risky to leave the boat unattended. My disappointment was soon forgotten when we anchored in the next bay as it was amazing. Cliffs all around and small caves carved into the sides which were intriguing. After a swim to cool off we dinghied ashore and walked round the bay on the little trail, finding an interpretation board which explained these caves were burial spaces and dated back to 2,000BC. There were numerous of these funerial caves all around the bay as well as bigger, open caves little fire pits inside from visitors camping out.  There was even a gentleman who had a dining table and chairs inside one of these with a little rock path down to his boat garage carved inside the rock! The trail was delightful making its way through groves of fig trees, giant cactii, large palm trees, trailing bougainvillea and tall bamboo. It was other worldly and we felt privileged to spend the night here. It was nice to see other boats in the bay, with local Menorcans, a family of three generations, making dinner and getting beds ready for the night on their rough but ready motor boat, fishing rods hanging over the edge with expectant boys gazing down at the line while little girls busied themselves choosing their sleeping spot and granny scrubbing the potatoes to cook for tea. What memories these children will have as they grow, of magical nights spent on their grandparents’ boat – and hopefully BBQ the fish they catch.

The next morning there were a couple more boats who had joined us, a classy shiny motor boat with a few naked guys swimming and lounging about, a large yacht with a French couple, naked and a few bohemian folks reclining on the rocks lying on brightly coloured mats, mostly naked! Well, while in Menorca!

The trip up the coast to Mahon was delightful and we took advantage of the seclusion of the boat to tan those parts not often reached by the suns rays! Think we’re becoming a bit bohemian as well!

I had a nice musing time as we sailed along and thought about the Eleonora falcons, it seemed apt that I’d seen them and was treated to their aerial display. My Mum’s given name is Elenore and I think it is an elegant name. Her mother was Lydia and her grandmother was Ellen, all derivatives of Helen. I was initially named Eilidh (meaning Helen in Gaelic) before my father was told by a Gaelic speaking friend that the name and meaning he really wanted  (Eilid with no “h” on the end = red deer hind ) so he had to go to the registrar and pay 5 bob to have the name changed! My colleague and friend’s second daughter is Eleanor and another friend’s  first daughter is Ella, all linked, all special. My musings.

Before we reached the town I showered the fancy shower mousse that Carole had brought over and felt more like a lady again! We fuelled up at the marina, took on fresh water that the nice Menorcan attendant didn’t charge us for while I walked up the hill to the shop to get fresh supplies. I was glad it was downhill on the return as the load was heavy including beer, wine, water and a week’s worth of fruit and veg! Off round the bay til we found the public quayside to tie up stern to and a really friendly marinera appeared to help us sort out the lines.

The captain enquired if it was ok to stay there while we went for lunch

“Of course! If you don’t need fuel or water, its free. I see you are self sufficient, amazing, it’s the way to be! You can sail alone and no need to use the system, this is great eh! F..k the system! You go and enjoy lunch, you are welcome here!” He proclaimed, all smiles and joie de vivre about him.

Ok, so we did.

I decided to dress up in my new clothes as it was a classy looking port with quay side restauraunts, bars and very bijou boutiques selling their wares. We decided to go to the first restaurant we came across, right across the road from the boat so we could keep an eye on it and it seemed nice. We had learned our lesson from walking miles to chose the perfect place and then getting too tired and hungry to enjoy it. It certainly was nice but expensive however we laughed as we went for a short walk along the quay to see numerous cafes with menu del dai for E10 each! Oh well.

As we chatted over lunch and used the free WIFI to double check the weather for the crossing to Sardinia, I suggested we just leave that afternoon as there was bad weather coming in and there seemed little point delaying as we would only anchor for the night round the bay here then set off in the early hours.

A good decision, so we settled the bill and hopped back on the boat. I took off the new clothes, removed the makeup and jewellery and tied up the hair ready for sailing. Ah well, short but sweet stay in this trendy bay. The trip over to Sardinia would take 36 hours and  involved an overnight passage, our first alone. I felt ready though, having built up a lot of knowledge and confidence over the last 6 weeks. My goodness has it only been 6 weeks since we left home? It seems like months. I called Mum, the lovely Elenore, to let her know we were out of comms for a couple of days and we let go the lines to head further east.

A new island, a new country, a new flag.

“..,From traditions and from hopes

she weaves the flag for the youth..,”

The Three Johns

Across the Mediterranean, lie you sitting,
In a pensive and reflective poise of your own
And here I by this shore,
Hearing the roar
Of the surging sea
And you by that shore
Of the Mediterranean
Lost in the waiting and pensive reflection of yours,
Seeing the waves rise and fall
And from this seashore,
I hearing the music man and humanity.

 Bijay Kant Dubey

“Pan pan, Pan pan, Pan pan,

All ships, all ships, all ships

This is “..” radio

Several small ships have been reported, drifting or underway, with an indeterminate number of people aboard in the “..” area

Ships are asked to keep a careful look out and offer assistance as necessary and to report to Radio “..”

This call went out over the VHF almost every hour in the Straits of Gibraltar area and gave us all a sobering shudder each time. People fleeing their homeland in search of a better life in Europe in rubber dinghies, no engines, no sails, little food, water and shelter from the sun and certainly no safety equipment. I could not bring myself to imagine the conditions for them and the fear especially at night with constant super tankers and container ships speeding by. So vulnerable. I had noticed on my newsfeed on social media, posts from friends back home who were going to great lengths to help these people, be they refugees or simply migrants trying to cross the sea to a better life, at least we are doing what little we can to help. I made a mental note of where extra water, food and clothing were on the boat, so we could offer assistance as necessary should be come across any of these little vessels. Many folks had warned us not to interfere and said to stay away but I could not do that, these are humans like us on the sea and you do what you can to help those in peril on the sea.

We had decided to do the crossing from Gibraltar to the Balearics as a non-sop crossing as the hop along the Spanish coastline was longer and way more expensive with berths at over E100 per night so we had taken on crew to do the crossing so we could go overnight. Two Johns answered the call.

John No 2 arrived in La Linea first, tall, lean, very experienced sailor with over 38 years sailing in Scotland and abroad. He had owned various boats over the years and we instantly felt at ease with this fellow Scot from the south side of Glasgow. John no 1 had found a new best friend as they talked of nothing but boats, boats’ bits and boat trips. Ah peace for me! He fitted in perfectly and went off to Gib for a wander and to buy his mum some tax free fags to take home.

John No 3 arrived the following day, a jovial ex-fire fighter from Devon, experienced and professional who was sussing out this sailing lark to see if he wanted to commit to buying a boat for his retirement. We spent the day getting to know the boat and each other and went out for a last supper before departing at first light the following day. No one slept too easy that night, partly the heat and partly the noisy marina so I went for a shower at 4am as I knew I would not get a good until we reached Majorca as we would be on water rations again.

I had it easy with the crew doing the night watches so I elected to cook for the team which I enjoy anyway and they enjoyed eating it so a win win. We also took part in recycling games by attempting to get as much material into a water bottle!

Lack of wind meant a lot of motor sailing which was annoying but at least offered calm seas for me to cook. Leaving Gib felt good as we were now entering the Mediterranean proper, a real goal achieved. The sad thing was there was a lot more plastic rubbish floating around making our commitment to get a net to clean up what we can stronger.

The  3.5 day crossing was fairly uneventful, smooth seas, a little wind and a lot of open sea. A few cargo ships around initially but as we were taking a direct route we were mostly off the main shipping lanes. Plenty dolphins joined us and we saw a huge sunfish wallowing around on the surface. Big excitement to see a large turtle as well, about 1m across, on the surface swimming gently along. I hoped the plastics were not affecting him.

John No 1 decided we should refuel at Cartagena as we did not want to run short on the crossing and it was not too much out our way so we called in at 4am to use the 24hr fuel pump. She is only using around 2l/hr so not bad at all. A huge sword fish leapt clear of the water, its silvery side catching the sunlight and sword lancing high towards the sky, as we motored out to open waters again. A few cruise ships passed us by, decks strewn with sun loungers and water slides on the top decks. I recalled the times Mum and I had cruised, my initial scepticism overruled by the luxury of travel and convenience for mum. We had such fun in the South China seas  for her 80th birthday, exploring the Philippines, Borneo, Brunei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and China. We did not bother with the very expensive company day trips and I organised our own day trips which were much more fun and cheaper.  We ended up on speed boats, eating noodles in town bars and drinking Singapore Slings in Raffles Hotel!

Back to reality and making salads for lunch for the Johns and even a lamb tagine inspired by our recent Moroccan visit.

It was nice to chat to different folks again with fresh stories to share.

John no 2 had lots of stories and one that had me in stitches was the time in his early sailing days when he had a small sailing boat based on the Clyde and he decided to take his mum for a wee sail down the coast to Little Cumbrae. He took his pal “Wee Bert” for company too. They set off in very light winds and he spent the whole voyage trying unsuccessfully to get his boat to sail while his pal and  Mum enjoyed watching the world go by with not an ounce of sailing knowledge between the two. His mum had spied a bay ahead and mentioned her pal lived there so could they  “pop over to say hello” No problem so John no 2 set course and asked Wee Bert to take the helm and “You can’t go wrong just point the bow towards that bay and I’ll put some tomato soup on for lunch”

He went below to make the lunch and happily busied away until he looked out the pothole to see large rocks looming ahead.

He shot up to the deck and grabbed the helm but too late, they were in the rocks. As his boat was shallow hulled it nestled in the shallow rocks, he tried to start the outboard engine to attempt to run them way however as he pulled the start cord, the prop caught the rocks and the pin flew out rendering it useless! Try the anchor he thought, put it down and pull them off, he let the anchor down but did not know it was not connected to the boat so it dropped to the bottom rendering it useless. Nothing for it he thought so he jumped ashore on to the rocks to push it off, his pal Wee Bert and Mother staring at him! As he pushed it off and lifted his leg to jump back in, when a gust of wind from nowhere filled the sails and off she went like a shot – leaving him perched on the rock!

“ I saw her sailing away back up the Clyde, Wee Bert looking back at me with a look of horror and Mother, nonplussed, sat down and lit a cigarette! I thought, typical I’d spent all day getting her to sail and this is the moment she chooses!

Luckily he found a fisherman along the coast with a small boat who gladly took him out to chase his boat and got him aboard to take control.

“I went back the following weekend and recovered my anchor too!”


We passed between Ibiza and Formentera in the early hours and spotted a large sperm whale lying on the surface blowing rhythmically, we floated gently past it so as not to disturb it and it humped its back and dived down lifting its tail fin as it did – spectacular!

Arrived in Palma, Majorca early evening, good time for John no 2 to jump ashore, bag on shoulder and off to get his flight that evening back to Glasgow.  We anchored out in Palma Bay in front of the cathedral making a stunning back drop. We went ashore to the chic beach side restaurant in front of us which ended up being very expensive but hey ho, we saved on berthing charges in Palma Marina! John no 3 went off to watch a boxing match in town leaving us to enjoy a Mojito at sundown.

Upped anchor at 8am and motored back over to the marina at Palma to let John No 3 off to get his flight back to Devon and we set off round the coast to Andratx. We passed by Santa Ponsa where John’s parents had lived for over 20 years and reminisced of our annual holidays there at their  lovey villa with pool which the boys spent hours in. We had heard from Carole (my Mum-in-law) that she had booked flights to come and see us which was a great surprise and we organised to meet in Port Pollensa in a few days’ time.

Andraxt was lovely and we took a mooring to get the facilities too and relaxed there for the night, going ashore in the evening for a meal and also the next morning for a café con leche and ensaimada. Also picked up some fresh supplies and fishing gear including a net!

I took advantage of the end of season sales and the over-excited, demonstrative, sweating profusely, boutique owner, expounded about everything I tried on and won me over so I left with a few new items for the Stravaigin collection and topped up my supplies quite happily.

Sailed on round to Port de Soller stopping for lunch and a swim at a quiet little cove with pretty houses lining the cliff sides. Arrived at Soller early evening and anchored out though was pretty swelly. Again many happy memories of bringing the boys here went little to ride the orange tram from Soller down to the port for ice creams and a play on the beach.

Left early the next morning to sail the 7 hrs round the coast to Pollensa however once out the bay the swell was horrendous with a confused sea and large breaking waves. Two hours into it I could not take it any more as was violently sick and debilitated so J decided to return to port and sit out this rough weather. Back in Soller it was still swelly and I felt awful so took took to my bunk to recover. What a difference a day makes from clothes shopping and sipping iced tea to lying comatose in my bunk drugged up on meds and washed out with sea sickness. It is a curse I have that when i get it, it is so bad I am incapable of doing anything but lying down eyes closed.

Dozed it off for a while then had a shower, cleaned up the boat and myself then went ashore for a walk on land and enjoy an ice cream the only thing I could eat. J commented he was amazed that even after going through all that I still wanted to continue!

“Yes I do as the nice bits outweigh it all but I’m not going out in those conditions again!” I stated firmly.

He agreed.

We booked a berth at the marina for Carole arriving agreeing it would be better than trying to dinghy ashore and out to boat plus I needed a proper shower, hair wash and laundry!

It didn’t turn out to be so expensive as we’d been told and was a treat – how often would we have the Queen aboard with us! Much cleaning and tidying took place in  prepartion for her arrival and finally we met up with her at a wee café, she having taken a taxi from Santa Ponsa that morning. It was great to have a visitor and she kindly brought some goodies for me including posh shower mousse and nail varnish!

Tomorrow we attempt Pollensa again.