Judy on our walk in Marina di Ragusa
Albertine & Anna's French Vacation Farmhouse
Church of Magnalina above.
Taxi is ready to go now; six people including driver
Below are winter pictures while in Canada
This sailing season began in southern Sicily, to Tunisia, Sardinia, Corsica, France, Spain, Portugal, and a failed Atlantic crossing having us winter in Portugal. By land, we had an incredible adventure in Southeast Asia visiting Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. See Off the Beaten Track. Returning to snowy Canada. While in Tunisia, we rented a car and drove to the eastern border of Algeria, See Off the Beaten Track. During the summer, we drove through central France. In the fall, we rented a car from Marrakesh to the Algerian border on the west through the breathtaking Sahara Desert. See Off the Beaten Track.
January 2, 2013 -- Best wishes for all our friends, family, and website visitors in 2013. Con and I will return to Marina di Ragusa, Sicily to Big Sky in two more days, leaving just enough time to empty our suitcases and reload them for Southeast Asia, for a month.
January 6 -- Temperatures are yummy; sun is sparkling; birds are singing; and the water's smooth and comforting. Ah! We're home. Boo, this is now our second day without our luggage; it didn’t make the connection in Rome. Dear Alatalia, PLEASE, please, please return our luggage to us.
January 8 – Ahhh, we can relax, our luggage arrived -- four days late, and now laundry is up on the line ready to be repacked for our upcoming incredible adventure. Con is busy each day researching flights and trains as I research hotels and what to see. Temperatures are 18 degrees under sunny blue skies.
January 10 -- We've completed our hotel and flight bookings for our trip!
January 14 -- Yesterday, Judy (Pacific Pearl) and I went for a two-hour walk east from the marina to the nature preserve and back again. The marina is located where the land swings out. Spring flowers are blooming. This is our second winter with Judy (former Aussie surfer-girl) and Bruno (a French chef from France) both delightful people we had the pleasure of spending the winter with in Kos Greece too.
January 15 -- Waking to thunder and lightning confirmed the prediction that a storm was moving our way. Dark clouds have covered the sun and a few small hail stones are bouncing off Big Sky. Then, like a door opened, a Force 11 wind blowing a steady 65 knots entered, raging through the marina. Lightning bolts flashed just south of us, and white caps developed in the marina. Nature is not to be messed with. The sea waves are breaking against the marina breakwater sending white water billowing up as high as the light posts. So far, all the boats are safe. By afternoon, we walked to the fresh-food market. The mandarin vendor filled a plastic bag to the brim, and motioned two fingers, "2 euro." With our backpack full and heavy, we stopped into the cruiser's room and participated in a Windows 7 discussion led by one of the cruisers. Each week, someone volunteers to share technical knowledge.
January 20 – We hosted a party aboard with Judy, Bruno, Angie, Keith, Con and me. Judy is leaving on to visit her mom in Australia and Bruno to France to visit a friend. Angie and Keith just returned from Wales.
January 21 – We’re off to Southeast Asia
Click the button left for stories on our visit to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
March 16 – RETURNED FROM SOUTHEAST ASIA and it feels good standing on Canadian soil!
Con and I entered Canada on the Pacific side, visiting my mom in Victoria, on Vancouver Island where spring has sprung in a beautifully colourful way. The three of us drove up island to visit Hugo and Elserine (Con's brother) and watched the sea lions splashing in the ocean. Across the bay they were really raising ruckus with their throaty barks. Visiting our fun-loving mom is always a treat. On our last day in Victoria, 86-year-old mom took us out to dinner in Sidney to a restaurant by the marina. Walking through the Sidney marina, a yacht-owner invited us aboard his 80 footer and opened a bottle of wine; a really enjoyable night. We flew to snowy Saskatchewan. Could that province shuffle in a bit of spring-like weather? Arriving in Carrot River, Saskatchewan on the tail-end of a severe snow storm in wind-chill weather dipping to -30 is harsh. Just days ago we were in +38 degree weather! The Saskatchewan family and Con and I drove across the vast prairie to the pretty town of Saskatoon booking into a hotel with a swimming pool. Nick, Bryant and Dex flew in from Calgary for a fun family visit.
March 22 – Our Sweet Grandkids
Now in Alberta, we got together with cousins Dex 4 and Hailey 3 who call each other "Dexton" and "Hairy". They fill us up with their happiness. For hours they danced their hearts out on an Xbox dance game taking a break to play on the iPad.
I visited my girlfriends, I call my Friday Friends. We’ve gathered in a coffee shop every Friday for 13 years. When I’m in town, I try not to miss it. Last spring, Nadina and Karen visited us aboard Big Sky while we sailed through Turkish waters.
March 27 – Hypocritical visit to the zoo
I’m a critic of zoos and marina parks, but here we are at the Calgary Zoo and seeing the world through their three and four-year-old eyes. Con and I were already exhausted from their energy and we’d just reached the kiosk to buy the tickets! For well over CND$100 and a $20 wagon rental, the kids were more interested in playing in the park than seeing the animals. However, the penguins were a big hit. Friday, we're all going to Red Deer with Lindsey and Les for Easter, including mom who’s flying in from Victoria.
Old Time Rock n Roll
Courtney’s boyfriend and Courtney surprised us with floor tickets (Row 12) to one of our favourite performer, Bob Seger, who absolutely rocked the Saddledome. The guy beside me sang so loud it was hard to hear Bob! There wasn't an empty seat in the dome; an awesome concert!
Easter weekend -- Lindsey and I hid Easter eggs around their house and when Hailey walked in the door, she followed the chewed carrot pieces to the presents.
BACK ON THE BOAT
April 13 -- We're back aboard Big Sky in Sicily after three fantastic winter months of travel that took us AROUND THE WORLD! We flew from Sicily to Rome, through Cairo arriving in Bangkok for a few days before flying to Myanmar for a 12-day guided tour there. Afterward, we flew to Cambodia, then Laos, and Vietnam touring those countries on our own. On our return to Canada, we stopped in Taiwan, then beautiful Victoria to visit mom. Bundling in winter clothes, we flew to cold and snowy Saskatchewan for a week with our daughter Brit and her sweet family. Next stop was a flight to snowy Alberta where the rest of our daughters and grandkids live. Following five weeks in Canada, we climbed aboard a flight to the Netherlands to wish Nomie (Con’s mom) an early 97th birthday. Yesterday, we flew back to the boat stopping in Rome, making it an AROUND THE WORLD TRIP.
Big Sky was in great shape; a bit sandy from the winter rains that brought part of the Sahara Desert along for the ride. First thing this morning, we walked to the now completed town square in shorts and t-shirts for a cappuccino and croissant in the sunshine, looking out at the glistening calm and blue blue blue sea. Ahhh, we're home.
April 19 -- We're ready to untie Big Sky, and point her west, and slightly north to Sardinia. The sea is calm, winds are light, and the Sahara Desert that was topside is now at the bottom of the marina. Just north of us, Mt. Etna is acting up and we’re crossing our fingers that the ash doesn't blow south. The marina family is busy checking their sails and rigging, and saying their good-bye's. In a week, about 100 boats will be leaving Marina di Ragusa to begin their sailing season.
Toddler fell off the boat today
Soaking up Vitamin D in the beautiful warm weather, I was perched on the bow reading, waiting for the laundry to dry. A baby’s playful voice was melodic in the background just a few boats down and across from us, and then I heard, a splash! The baby’s voice was now quiet. Standing, I couldn’t see the baby, but knew she went overboard. I yelled, “Where’s the baby?” as I sprinted down our ladder. The father ran from where he was a few boats from his stern, dove in and swam to the bow where the baby (without a life jacket) had fallen a meter from their un-netted bow. The water is cold! Now the sounds were filled with the baby’s crying. I looked into her terrified face as she was pulled from her father’s arms to the dock and gave her a big smile hoping to take away her fears. Someone put a ladder into the water for the dad to climb out. Seems really odd to have a toddler aboard and aloud to play topside without a life jacket on a boat without netting, and worst of all without adult eyes on her.
April 21 -- Parting is such sweet sorrow
We were invited aboard Judy and Bruno's Oyster along with Keith and Angie for a delicious duck confit prepared by the chef. We’d all wintered together in Kos, Greece last year and have kept in touch. Judy is from Australia, Bruno from France, Keith and Angie from Wales.
April 28 -- It was a fabulous day for our first sail of the season. We departed Marina di Ragusa the same time four other boats, our destination was Licata, arriving that afternoon. Dolphins joined us for a short while swimming lazy-like at our bow. With a frozen shoulder (from an injury six months ago) Con is the designated line and fender care-taker while I drive in and out.
Canadian's have a party
A surprising number of Canadian's are in this marina and so we gathered together, hosted by Noel and Ceu's on their catamaran sharing snacks and stories.
Forty-five Knots -- Bikes Go Overboard!
Wind was blowing like a son-of-a-gun. We were rolling as were all the boats. Con stepped out to check the lines and fenders, and our bikes which were locked together on the pier. He thought they looked precarious and climbed down the ladder arriving on the pier in the same moment that they blew overboard sinking five meters to the mucky bottom. Using a neighbour’s grappling hook Con snagged one wheel and dragged them up. We know own our own grappling hook. The winds continued to pick up with white caps in the marina and had to fasten the stove-top clamps to cook a pot of lentil soup as we were heeling at times 20 degrees.
May 5 -- Today is the big Donkey celebration day in Licata. I woke this morning to a 21-gun salute at 8 am, jumping out of bed and dressing in one motion. I didn't want to miss the dressed-up donkeys and horses scheduled to parade from the "to die for" cemetery as Con refers to it downhill to the city, and through the streets. Standing in the town observing the happenings, it seemed a little disorganized. Con asked two young local boys what was going on, but they didn’t understand English. Using our German and Spanish got the idea that it was an annual celebration. Con said, "C' on, you learn English in school!" They shrugged, then posed for the picture, asking in English, "Put it on Facebook?"
They're dressed as "barefoot sailors," part of the ritual but "real" sailors will run barefoot at 8 pm tonight with the remains of Saint Angelo in an urn and dip him into the sea.
Con and I situated ourselves (unknowingly) in prime real estate as Saint Angelo's remains were carried ceremoniously out of the church by dozens (maybe hundreds) mostly men, dressed in sailor suits. It was so spectacular for some that right in front of us, two elderly women fainted within a few minutes of each other. Paramedics were on standby and sprinted to their aide. The running of Saint Angelo's remains carried by the barefoot sailors. Hundreds lined the streets. The next morning, hundreds of people gathered at the harbour for two greasy pole events. One greasy pole hung over the water by a boat and this one below. The same idea: climb it and get the prize.
King of the Castle
Today they crowned the new king in the Netherlands as their queen abdicated. Con took advantage of his position at the top of the castle today claiming it for the Dutch -- even though the Dutch-born boy was refused a passport when he asked to have it back last year.
We couldn’t find our way up to the castle and asked two police officers for walking directions. They had no idea.
May 10, 2013 -- The happiest of birthday's to our daughter Nick today!
We waved “good-bye” to Keith and Angie, who untied us this morning. We’ve wintered with them in Messolonghi, Kos, and Marina di Ragusa. They’re heading toward the Ionian Sea. Our 26-hour, 171 NM journey from Licata, Sicily to beautiful, sunny Monastir was pretty good, considering it was our first long sail of the season. We sailed under 15-20 knot winds for the first six hours, and as the wind tapered, we motor-sailed for the next 10, and then motored the rest of the 16 NM on smooth sea. By the time I realized my stomach was not liking the sail, (those who struggle with sea-sickness know this) it was nearly too late. The first part of the sail set my stomach into sea sickness mode and taking my Turkish anti-sea sickness pills, I didn’t realize until it was too late that they were the sleepy ones making it hard during my shift to stay alert. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic. During my shift, a large freighter continued toward us on a collision course. I continued watching for twenty minutes, but when the ship hadn't changed course, I cut the engine and called him on the VHF. In a friendly voice, I told him I would alter my course slightly with an intention to go behind him. He agreed he would alter his course to port giving a wider berth. Con came out from his sleep to watch (as it was the most exciting issue through the whole crossing). When we finally settled back into our route, we looked behind us and our jaws dropped when we saw a massive-sized freighter had snuck up on us and rumbled passed our stern. It kind of felt like the ham in the middle of a sandwich.
Arriving in Monastir, as “helmsman” because of my frozen shoulder it was great having the on-shore help catching the lines from Con. The Cap Monastir Marina Capitainne helped tie us on, saying, "Welcome back!" He remembered us (or Big Sky) from our five-month stay in 2008/2009 when we had to return to Canada for Con's health and business. (Both are in excellent shape today...) The next step was dealing with the Customs and Immigration. The last time we entered Tunisia (in Kelibia) we had two big burly agents board and they went through everything asking for a "souvenir" or graft and left with two Lindt chocolate bars -- likely less than they had hoped for. This time, two friendly guys boarded and asked for nothing. We'd prepared in advance by purchasing two 4.99 euro bottles of whiskey; 5.99 vodka, four Lindt chocolate bars. Now what do we do with 'em? (The chocolate is no problem!) Last time we were here, those items were absurdly expensive, for instance the whiskey and vodka were easily 130 dinar (about 70 euro). The chocolate bars were about 5 euro.
We'll wash up and go out to explore this authentic Arabic African city and see if anything has changed since the revolution a few years ago.
May 14 -- Happy birthday to one of the most beautiful souls, our granddaughter Hailey, who turned four today.
Luckily cats have nine lives
We untied this morning for what we thought would be a quick refueling at the Fuel Dock. Once untied, we could see that a big tour boat was tied to the dock. "Five minutes," they called to us. We circled for 50 minutes waiting, waiting, waiting and then heard, "Don’t use engine - no engine! La chat, la chat, la chat!" (French and Arabic are spoken in Tunisia.) I put Big Sky into neutral and then saw la chat -- a drowning cat trying to find a landing spot on our boat – an impossibility. It was swimming for its life, getting weaker and weaker and we could see the desperation in its little eyes. Con got out our big net, but Big Sky is too high and we couldn't reach him. Meanwhile, both Con and I later laughed at how we had both envisioned what the cat would do once aboard. It’s wild! Our experience here in Monastir is that these cats are fierce warriors. Each time Con tried to snag it in the net, it would swim out. It finally swam toward the concrete wall where one of the twenty or so fishermen had been calling, "psss, psss, psss." The proud rescuer then called to us with the cat neatly inside his net, "Whiskey! Whiskey!"
I called back, "He's not our cat."
Eventually we motored to the quay for diesel, taking on 860 litres at about 78 cents with a savings in the four digits.
Oops Wrong North African Country
We walked around the Tunisian city seeking a place for a good tangine meal and restaurant after restaurant kept getting, “Not here,” until finally someone said, “It’s a Moroccan dish.”
The government subsidizes the bread and fuel here, and as visitors, we benefit by enjoying .09 CDN baguettes and .78 CND diesel per litre.
A waiter expressed comments to us about the current (gesturing a beard) government saying that it was not good. An election will take place in the fall and he is confident they will be out. He said, however, that there is a major difference in the government today from before the Spring Revolution and that is that he can talk freely about the government.
Yesterday, we witnessed a horse being whipped to perform a task too difficult. He was attached to a wagon heavily laden with rocks – far too many for the skinny horse, let alone the fact that it was unshod and slipping on the cobblestoned road, nearly doing the splits. It was shocking to observe. Blood poured from its shins. When the two men eventually had the horse back into position, it dumped the cart and the horse nearly went over with it. Panic was written all over the horses face. I could have cried, but didn’t think it was a safe idea to speak out since there were many men standing around.
Then today, I told the driver of a horse-drawn carriage, "No!" when he asked if we'd like a ride. We'd just watched him whip the horse's back with a stick to make it gallop uphill on the cobblestones in the heat. He asked why, and I called over my shoulder, "Because it's cruel to hit the horse."
He whipped the horse into a trot to catch up to me and called out, “My horse smells better than you.” Con laughed and laughed. Knowing the man was circling the park, I sped walked ahead of Con to the other side of the park and flagged the man down, “I didn't say your horse smells, I said it's cruel to hit it. It’s rude to say I smell.”
He said humbly (not expecting to see me again I think), “I don’t hit my horse.”
I looked at him skeptically, then said, “Okay.”
“Okay,” he returned, “Sorry, I don't understand."
Con caught up to us and hearing the last exchange of conversation just laughed again.
Central Tunisia by land: Visit Off the Beaten Path
May 19 -- Remembering Larry Radu who would have been 61 this year, taken too young at the age of 49, pictured with Courtney, Lindsey and me.
May 22 -- We left Monastir, Tunisia with a plan to take the weather window to Sardinia knowing it would be a long sail, but wanting to keep ahead of the strong winds and stormy weather that would chase us. And it did. The first few hours of the sail were pleasant and the sea calm and then it picked up, blowing from the east as predicted. We arrived many hours ahead of schedule, 33.5 hours later. At times we clocked nine knots. That’s fast for a sailboat. Once again, the sea attacked my weak stomach and Con had to do more of his share of the watch as I battled my sea sickness. He spotted a swordfish jumping near Big Sky and of course, the friendly dolphins swam beside us for a short while.
Once safely tied in the Cagliari marina, we slept soundly until 2:30 am when the storm arrived lighting up the sky like a lazar-light show. Later that day, we hiked five kilometres to complete what became a three-hour check-in procedure with Port Authorities and Police (to get the proper passport and boat papers signed). Why is it so often like THE FIRST TIME they’ve ever done it. Sheesh. I wonder which country is easier, Tunisia where “check in” is usually a “souvenir” (usually a bottle of whisky). In the Italian island of Sardinia, it’s a marathon event.
We celebrated our successful check-in into Schengen with what was being advertised as a "traditional Sardinian" meal. I ordered Roast Pork which was ninety percent fat and Con ordered Donkey Stew (yes he really did -- making an Ass of himself, wouldn't you say?). The woman asked "why?" when she pointed to the crispy fat left on the plate? People actually eat that stuff. Can you imagine their arteries! We passed on the offer of Horse Steak. Our meal was served with celery, tomatoes and unwashed radishes (still with garden dirt on them).
Dumping the Muddy Waters
We opened all the taps and let the tanks empty, dumping the muddy waters (not of course the Father of Blues Muddy Waters but the muddy-tasting Tunisian water that we filled up our tanks with) it has to go! The Cagliari, Sardinia marina fish are enjoying the fresh, however muddy tasting water streaming from our boat. The wind is picking up and should be with us for many days again. We’re patting ourselves on the back for leaving when we did.
The sky filled with a delightful glistening pink colour when flamingos flew overhead. Shortly after, a flock of storks were trying to make landfall in the Mistral (the north winds that are blowing).
We’ll rent a car to tour the Mediterranean's second largest island. Which one is the largest, you ask, Sicily!
May 26 -- Touring Cagliari, Sardinia
With our hiking sandals well affixed to our feet, we hiked up to the Bastione San Remy, the centre of the Old Quarter situated high above the city of Cagliari. Sunday, the book boosts a great market, but the place was pretty quiet -- still beautiful.
The Italians have been failing (in our opinion) with Pizza and authentic food, but they get high grades for their gelato -- ice cream, which we enjoyed this afternoon on our walk down the hill.
May 29 -- Military Activity!
Con's famous last words, "Can't get much better than this!" We were finally having the perfect wind, perfect sea, and had been under sail for about 40 minutes in our full-day journey to Arbatax, when the military appeared stealth-like beside us. They spoke no English, and they NEVER like using the radio, so with sign language, shouting from boat to boat, hearing a few Italian and English words, we understood that we could NOT go further north until noon and would have to wait two hours hugging the coast just south of the cove. At 11 am we heard a missile, trying to decipher whether it was from the air or sea.
Photo: (The line on this photo below is an attempt to show you the imaginary line that we cannot go beyond. The military boat is heading back into the bay, and we are now drifting south of that line.)
Touring Sardinia's south end
In a one-day rental (expensive from what we've been used to -- 60 euro) we explored Sardinia's southern end. It's MONDAY -- Italy is closed! We did see these guys, just west of our marina, so now I know where they're all going when they fly overhead each evening. There's a big open salty swampy wetland, one of seven places in the world where you can spot these large unique birds. I learned that flamingos are rich in colour (pink and red) because of the purple crustaceans they consume which are abundant around Cagliari during the winter. See how prehistoric they look and if you've seen them in flight with the sun shining on their wings, you know what I mean when I say, "They're stunning!"
June 1-3- On The Road Again
With our four-day rental, we pointed the bumper west toward the sea, a magnet for us. To get there, we crossed Sardinia from the west through the spectacular mountains arriving in Alghero in the west, a sea side resort town. Sardinia is mostly known for its coasts, drawing sailors (like us) and charter planes to their turquoise-colored sea.
The towering mountain ranges on this island are astounding and we're glad we didn't miss seeing them. The peaks are jagged, volcanic craters, deep gorges, all covered in a patchwork of green grasses and maquis shrub lands which are dense evergreen shrubs, junipers, strawberry trees (yes they're trees), sage, thyme, cactus, ivy...
Man-made nuraghi's left over from the stone ages are scattered everywhere. These are tall stone structures held up by the weight of the stones alone.
Dig deeper, if you like caving because there are stalagmite caves in them-there limestone mountains.
Our first night's stay was just north of Alghero, in a nice, simple sea-side hotel. (A four star which was really like a three star, with a five-star view and five-star price.) To get there, we drove through so many unique mountain villages. Below, we arrived in Nuoro on the national holiday, "Republic Day," where "Italians celebrate booting out the royal family in 1946. I bet that scared a few royal families around the world!
The towns are really pretty and quite different from Sicily -- its big brother island.
We drove through a beautiful cork forest. The cork is thick to protect the tree from the Mediterranean weather, drought, fire, etc. The bark though, is light-weight and water proof. People strip the tree every eight to fifteen years harvesting the cork for wine stoppers, flooring, art work... The cork grows back!
There's an abundance of wildlife, and in fact wild boar live in the cork forests. We saw a massive-sized pig running free near the road. Was that a wild boar?
Day Two, we arrived in Porto Cervo, the playground of the rich and famous -- made famous by the Aga Khan. The sailboats and marina in the background can be seen from our hotel room. Big Sky would cost 460 euro a night! Anchoring is no problem, but if you come to shore, there is a 32 euro dingy charge! Yikes!
Day three, we drove to Santa Teresa di Gallura on the northeast end of the island, and took a peek at Corsica (behind the watch tower). Check out Con's most excellent haircut, compliments of his personal groomer -- me.
June 1st, my dad would have been 88. This photo brings back wonderful memories of Con and my wedding the summer of 2004 in our backyard. Dad walked me up the aisle. Loved this day!
Brrr, when will the Sardinian weather grace us with a few warm rays? When the sun is out, it's short sleeves weather, but if the wind blows or a cloud covers the sun, we're donning our jackets.
We woke to a clean rain from the north (no Sahara Desert -- no red sand). Tomorrow, we have a rented car for a few days and will tour Sardinia's hot spots (hot as in where the rich and famous play) and visit places where nature and traditions are still almost perfectly intact. Yesterday, we hiked up into the hillside town named Santa Maria Navarrese named after the Medieval church. The hillside is draped in bougainvillea.
June 7 -- The freezer is stocked with prepared meals, Big Sky is loaded with 1500 litres of fresh water; we're ready to drop the anchor in cozy bays along the east side of Sardinia. After motored for nearly six hours with not a breath of wind for our sails, we tucked into the La Caletta marina. It's a cozy place, and a lot bigger than the book suggested. We'll spend the night and carry on tomorrow.
June 9 -- We're a tiny speck in the sea with the big ships around us in this bay. Sarafsa, a luxury yacht, rated #31 of 100 in the world in 2008 dropped anchor right beside us!
This yacht is literally as wide as we are long and we're a big boat! The Sarafsa is 15 x 82 meters. It's rumoured that the owner is a member of the Saudi Royal family and named her after their daughter Sara. It boasts of two spas, helipad and a car.
This yacht is docked beside us as well, which looks baby-sized by comparison. The slide would be perfect for our grandkids!
Despite weather reports stating little to no wind, we were able to set sail the moment we lifted our anchor. Sailing through three thunderstorms and beautiful sunny breaks, we were among the first of about a dozen ships to arrive in the bay, but none entered as dramatically as Big Sky!
Well, here's the thing... In the Maddelana's (the clump of islands on the north east side of Sardinia) the sailing books warns, "beware lots of rocks hidden just beneath the surface." The charts showed four to six meters everywhere with a small marked section of 2.9, but there were no buoys marking it. It should have been no problem, as our keel is 2.1... CRASH! We hit hard locking us between a couple of massive-sized boulders below the surface. Big Sky lurched to a dead stop.
The treacherous spot is directly below where the catamaran is now anchored. (Their keel is shorter than ours.) The power boat on the left in this picture came to our assistance immediately. He let out his anchor and reversed toward us. Con threw him a line and once we were tied together, he used his full throttle and backed us off the rocks and to safety. How do you say, "Thanks" for that?
Yesterday, before setting out, Con dove into the 19 degree waters to check Big Sky’s keel for possible damage. He surfaced, “Looks okay.”
June 13 -- Our last days in Sardinia and we say "good-bye" to Italy and our Italian internet. We're sailing to Corsica, a French Island and will set up our communications needs once there. In the meantime, we'll use SPOT.
June 15 -- Bonifacio, Corsica
Arriving on the beautiful French island of Corsica, it redefines the colour "turquoise". The sandstone and limestone cliffs at the south end of the island create breathtaking contrasts making it one of the prettiest places we've visited. The street is lined with quaint restaurants, ice cream stalls and cafe's. We hiked up to the top of the castle that overlooks the marina and took in the sea (south as far as we could see). Spectacular!
We waved passing Porto Cervo, the marina that promised a nearly 500 euro bill for one-night's stay. The Alfa Nero with a 2007 price tag of $190,000,000 was anchored just outside the entrance. It has a swimming pool, with a cover that transforms into a dance floor or helipad. “If they can afford the luxury yacht, they can afford the marina.” I looked them up online, the Alfa Nero holds 294,000 litres of fuel, and I guess they could afford that too.
The wind is still blowing hard, registering at times 40 knots in the sheltered bay, so we're staying put.
Mid-June -- SUMMER HAS ARRIVED!
We booked in for two nostalgic days in the Bonifacio marina (about 75 euro per night including water and power) remembering our visit five years ago with our daughter Nick. We’ve returned to the land of Moule Frites (Mussels and french fries) one of Con's favorite. (I was kind to him and had him wipe off the Roquefort cheese that was dripping down his chin before taking this photo.)
Internet is one of our necessities for so many reasons – weather updates and communication with our family. We invested 32 euro in bus fare to Porto Vecchio to buy 20 euro worth of internet.
We motored down the long steep gorge and sailed along the beautiful blue Corsican coast. The sail was about as good as it gets. The next morning, taking advantage of the east winds, we sailed further up the coast, "Oh, there seems to be another boat, maybe two," I said to Con passing the binoculars. We saw it was actually a regatta with 30 or more sailboats up ahead. We pulled into a perfect bay, completely private, and then all 30 regatta boats pulling in behind us and dropped their anchors.
It was beautiful hot day. I put on my suit, mask and snorkel and swam out intending to check our anchor in the 24 degree waters. It was bliss for about 30 seconds until I spotted them – pink and white jellyfish – everywhere! And, yes, you can hear a person scream through a snorkel I swam zigzag through the jellyfish and up the ladder like an Olympian. By mid-afternoon, the regatta was on their way, leaving just us and a Norwegian couple who later came over for snacks and cold white wine.
By now, our breakfast provisions were getting scarce. What a surprise when our Norwegian friends motored over while we were having our mornings latte's with a fresh baguette (French baguette's are the best) and two chocolate croissants which he'd just acquired from the bakery on shore. With our stomachs satisfied, we sailed along to another turquoise as only Corsican waters are and dropped anchor. Our companions, beautiful blue fish and no jellyfish!
Major Flooding in Alberta
June 23 -- Our thoughts are with family and friends as they struggle with the state of emergency flooding situation in Calgary and Canmore. Calgary's downtown was shut down Friday as the river overran Eau Claire and the Stampede grounds. All power and water were out in the downtown core. Twenty communities were on alert to relocate and many (100,000) were evacuated. We're sure the excellent work of thousands will get the city back in action. The Calgary Stampede is just nine days away.
In Calvi -- Corsica has cast quite a spell on us; it’s beauty is hard to match.
We rode the 30- 40 knots south winds to Calvi starting with a full main and genoa, gradually reefing smaller and smaller settling on a 7 knot double-reef. Gusts of 52 knots scare me. When we arrived at the Calvi marina there was no room, be we did manage to strap onto a buoy just outside the marina. We intend to remain there until the wind dies. The worst of the storm is expected tonight.
The anchorage was rocky and our four-hour motor-sail to Port de Girolata, the UNESCO protected area was ridiculously unpleasant – exhausting.
Seeking a south west shelter, we headed into the huge UNESCO protected bay, thinking we’d simply drop anchor behind the castle in five meters. To our surprise, buoys were nicely laid and an efficient marinara helped us secure the lines. (Big Sky is the nearest boat forward in this photo beside a 72-foot motor yacht. It's too shallow for us to tuck back behind the land.)
This area is only accessible by hikers or boats, there are no roads. The little village in the background is located at the heart of this area -- a large parcel of protected land.
The wind is relentless, and tonight’s blow will come directly at us through the corridor and weather reports say it’ll split charging at us from the north and south at the same time. By morning, we’ll take the north winds to find another bay to protect us from the bigger expected blow tomorrow night.
We're changing countries like we're changing socks
This month, we traveled from an Arab country (Tunisia) to Italian (Sardinia) to French (Corsica). We're getting good at our "good morning's" and "thank you's" in all languages!
Calvi to Nice
Finally, we were able to leave our buoy in the bay outside Calvi, Corsica for the marina. We stayed just one night, as the summer prices have arrived. 125 euro. The town is delightful, but too touristy for us. Our number mission: find the restaurant owned by the friends of Judy and Bruno. They were expecting us. We arrived mid- afternoon famished and our meal was fantastically delicious! This is a photo of the dessert.
It was time to departure for the French Riviera. And, of course, more big winds were to arrive. We investigated the best weather to take us to Nice for a daylight arrival. The plan: go around the corner from the marina, drop anchor and leave around 5 pm. What we did: Left the marina and rode the winds a third of the way to Nice. The sail wasn't rough, the wave super-sized, breaking at times on the bottom of the genoa! A few times we nearly put the rail in the sea. As the winds calmed somewhat, so did the sea, and we spotted three whales just a few hundred meters from our starboard stern. Shortly after, a giant turtle, which was too interesting to pass, so we spun around to take another look. Dolphins were feeding a few hundred meters behind us, but were too busy to visit at the bow. We got into Nice just as the sun rose, 21 hours later. Since our one-week reservation isn’t until tomorrow, we were on standby to hear if there was room. Actually we were looking for an additional week because we planned to tour Monaco, Cannes, and St. Tropes by train and then visit relatives in northern France.
Well, it turned out we didn’t read the reservation confirmation clearly and our reservation wasn’t for another week. Nevertheless, the American-accented young guys squeezed us into the super-yacht location, just Big Sky sized. It was a fabulous spot!
June 29, 2013 -- Nice to Monaco
We arrived by bus (twenty minutes and 2 euro) in Monaco from Nice where Big Sky is moored in the marina. Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, behind the Vatican City. It's located on the French Riviera, where it seems, money just rolls down the streets. This is our 47th country since starting our journey in 2007. We started our walking tour when the city bus dropped us off in front of the famous Monte Carlo casino, the site of plenty of James Bond movies.
Monte Carlo is one of the four quarters that makes up Monaco. This whole area is built vertically on rocky cliffs making it pretty dramatic to walk around, if not exhausting with the climbs up and down. This is also the place where the Formula One Grand Prix takes place. Ringo Starr, Bono (U2) Roger Moore, and lots of other famous take up residence here.
We walked around Prince Albert's house (palace above) and around the two breath-taking marina's (below).
The larger one, but it's hard to see the swimming pools on the top deck of these yachts.
Uniformed police officers seemed to be coming out of the rocks and crevasses and it turns out, Monaco has the largest police per capita in the world. It boasts the highest GDP per capita, the lowest unemployment (0 percent), the lowest poverty rate, the highest millionaires and billionaires per capita, and the most expensive real estate in the world. It is a tax haven, as the country does not have a personal tax on its residents.
Interestingly, if Prince Rainier hadn't produced an heir, Monaco would have reverted back to France. He traveled to America seeking a wife. Three days after meeting Grace Kelly, he proposed to her. Sadly, she died in a car accident in 1982, but not before producing an heir -- the current Prince Albert.
Below, Con is looking out at the dozens and dozens of yachts. Below him is a tiered beach, where people bring their towels to sun bath. Real estate (as I mentioned) is severely priced.
Nice is gearing up for the arrival of the Tour de France in a few days. Stages are being raced in Porto-Vecchio to Bastia, Corsica and soon they'll arrive by ferry and plane directly into Nice to begin the most grueling bike race in the world. The racers will speed right passed our boat July 2nd. Stay tuned for photos. Ha! we're right in the heart of it all!
June 30 -- Nice to Cannes
Because the Tour de France is to arrive in Nice from Corsica where the race has begun, some of the streets here are blocked, amateur trials are being done, and all systems are being tested. Con even got involved in some of the fun today.
In the afternoon, we boarded the train for Cannes, where the famous Film Festival takes place each year. It took about 35 minutes to get there. It's a gorgeous town, all in bloom with a blue beach border on one side and green parks and flowers on the other. (The marina behind me.)
I put my hand in Sharon Stone's hand print.
The beach goes forever. Below was taken on our walk along the Nice promenade.
July 1 -- Nice to Eze
We woke with a plan to catch the 11 am bus for the beautiful village of Eze, (pronounced ESS which we learned the hard way when people tried to send us back to "Nice" when we asked for directions). The town is located high on a rugged cliff overlooking the blue blue blue French Riviera.
Our target was the famous Galimand Perfume Factory, where we planned to participate in the 3 pm workshop which included a tour of the factory to learn how they make perfume, then from ten fragrances, mix three to make our own personal blend.
However, it didn't turn out quite like that. This is how the day progressed...
10:30 a.m. Walked with determination to bus stop (in case it came early).
10:35 a.m. Stepped in a fresh pile of dog crap left in the centre of the sidewalk. (The French DO NOT pick up.)
10:36 a.m. Walked in puddles, dragged left foot on sidewalk, cursed, stomped in grassy area (the small part not covered in dog crap), cursed again, when upon inspection was still in the crevasses of my Eco sandals.
11 a.m. Bus was late.
11: 30 a.m. Bus drove passed too full to stop.
11:45 p.m. Starved.
12:15 p.m. Climbed aboard a different bus going in the same general direction.
12:30 p.m. Got off at the wrong location. (The French bus drivers don't give directions.)
12:45 p.m. Starved
1:45 p.m. Still waiting. Still starved.
2:15 p.m. Climbed aboard another bus; transfer expired; bought new tickets; traveled five minutes to another stop.
2:35 p.m. Got on bus to take us to Eze Village (beautiful)
2:45 p.m. Grabbed sandwich to eat
2:59 p.m. Arrived for workshop; paid 20 euro; ushered sprint-like passed the Factory museum and various kilns, urns, and other perfume-making equipment; told to smell contents in ten separate jars and to choose three.
We did, mixed it, capped it and were ushered out! I was unable to smell anything as the whole factory smells like we were walking in one giant perfume bottle. The end result: Mine smelled like the stuff still stuck on the bottom of my left sandal. (No, it really did smell nice.)
Eze is perhaps one of the most beautiful little villages we've seen, with an intact castle towering over the town from the highest cliff. At the very top of the castle (a good climb which we did) is a Le Jardin d'Eze -- a garden. It was built in 1949 and not an easy feat as people had to carry up all the soil and plants without the use of vehicles. The panorama from the top really takes your breath away. We tried to capture it in these few photos.
View toward Monaco (about six kilometers).
Cannes is 35 kilometers further along the water in this photo.
July 6 -- It's summertime in the Riviera
It's a freeway here on the water and up above with luxury mega-yachts whizzing by creating tidal waters and helicopter after helicopter overhead. Entering the waters outside Cannes was a boat parking lot. Finding a spot near the first island off Cannes we dropped the anchor and enjoyed the activity around us nicely falling asleep when it seemed that WWIII had begun only to find out the fireworks display began. Was it for the American's living there (4th of July?) or a nightly occurrence? In the morning, we moved into a bay outside San Tropez and again watched super mega-yacht after super mega-yacht and helicopter after helicopter go by and throughout the rest of the afternoon, tourist boats with loud speakers described the history of the area. "In the early 1900s a man built the house with the green dome and today it's a six-unit apartment..."
Our journey today further west along the "happenin'" coast lead us through elegant pink jellyfish infested waters. A different species than I'm familiar with -- these ones are pink, thicker, longer, and their bulbous heads have brown spots. I sat on the bow spit attempting to capture one in my camera, but no such luck and scooped this one off the Telegraph News.
And into another world...
Topaz the luxury motor yacht snuck in behind us as we were washing Big Sky this morning, July 3rd.
Topaz is owned by 44-year-old Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirate (UAE), member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, and half-brother of the current president of UAE. He owns a stake in Virgin Galactic, (among many interests) the company that plans to send tourists into space. Topaz is the worth 400 million pounds, roughly $530,000,000 and is the fourth largest super yacht in the world. We could nearly fit two Big Sky's inside (widthwise). I guess if you're Sheikh Mansour, and worth 15 billion pounds, and your family is the second richest royal family in the world, worth 400 billion to 1 trillion pounds, affording this toy is child's play. Poor Big Sky is going to be quivering when it has to motor passed Topaz in the morning.
Tour de France!
The streets of Nice were lined with spectators wearing sponsor hats, jersey's, waving flags, and cheering on the Tour de France riders as they sped past at 55 KMH.
At times, we had to tuck our hand and heads back behind the barricade because the peloton would sometimes be hugging the barricade we stood behind. Our location was the "Gold Medal" spot! We could see them both coming and going. We managed to get this photo of the yellow jersey (the guy with the best overall time). The riders started on the other side of the street (behind the palm trees) and finished where we were. It was no easy feat for Con and me to stand for five hours watching the event -- BUT WE DID! Behind us is Nice's beautiful promenade and beyond that the beach and blue water. Action everywhere -- people on the beach, in the water, in the air, and lining the streets, however, there's nothing in this photo to prove that, just a couple of dorky looking people in their free hats. The Skoda float went by and we managed to grab two. Thankfully, they saved us from sun stroke! The athletes arrived last night from Corsica for the special event today in Nice, the TEAM TIME TRIALS. Tomorrow, they begin the grueling 228.5 kilometers from Cagnes-Sur-Mer (near Nice) to Marseille. The Tour de France is a 21-day event over 23 days and the riders cover 3,200 kilometres.
July 7 -- For the last four days, we've moved slowly along the French coast heading west toward Marseille sleeping "on the hook" in calm but populated coves and bays. For two days now, the French coast guard radio has announced a PAN PAN, PAN PAN, a non-life threatening situation, but one where all boaters must be alerted and alert. The only problem is, they only broadcast it in French! We're on the lookout for either a "white table floating" or a "white boat with four people aboard with engine trouble". We have no idea.
We woke July 8th remembering Larry Radu who died on this day twelve years ago. The morning is heavy with mist which seems fitting. In fact, the sea and sky were the same colour, blending ever so subtly that we had to squint to distinguish what point claimed the horizon. With not a breath of wind, ripple on the sea, or cloud in the sky, we lifted the anchor and slipped out so quietly that no other mariners at anchor were disturbed. The sun rose in measured movement behind a gorgeous rock. The only sound was the gentle purr of the engine and song birds. The biggest fish Con had ever seen jumped right in front of the boat slipping with ease under the water without a ripple.
A Canadair plane swooped down in front of us to collect a belly full of water, releasing it in a waterfall over the sea and then lined up to scoop again, and flying off toward the green hills.
July 11 -- Traveling west to Marseille
Rising early for our ten-hour journey west along the southern coast of France, we were met with calm seas and a good beam wind. Midday, we knew we passed the mouth of the Rhone River (where it fed its silty guts into the blue Med) because the sea turned into a churning caldron. Again, we heard a couple of PAN PAN messages throughout the day on the VHF but again, they were only in French.
Bon Jour Marseille
We've arrived at the cultural capital of Europe -- Marseille, docking Big Sky in the historic harbour along with 3,200 boats (mostly little dingy-sized ones) and stepped out into the heart of the town. Marseille is the second largest city in France with an impressive harbour that sees ferries and cruise ships coming and going from the African former French colonies as well as locations from around the world. The people are a rich mix of colour and culture adding lots of flavour to the city. On the street corner is a covered ceiling made of mirror, (I didn't set the photo upside down). Further along is the stunning building/museum that teases your eyes with what's real and what's canvass.
I'm walking on the right toward a T-intersection. Directly centre of the photo is a canvass, however the top arch is real as is the front of the protruding portion on the left, but the centre and parts of the sides are painted canvass. On the canvass there are pieces of concrete building, so the whole thing is deceiving. I wonder how many birds have flown into the blue sky thinking it's real? Inside was a free museum of fantastic boat models dating back to the 1700s.
A sweaty hike took us to the top of the city, the Bascillica for a stunning panorama of the city and sea surrounding it. We followed the "pink" cultural line on the sidewalk that wandered up and down the old district. These treasures were hanging to dry in the window a story above our heads. When evening arrived, we dressed up in high heels (well, I did) and attended LesNuits an 18-person ballet. It was fabulous and broke all the rules of traditional ballet with odd movements that awed the audience. Like me, they didn't move, cough, or sneeze throughout the hour and a half, mesmerized by the perfection. The choreography was suburb.
July 13 -- Surrounded by vacationers in resort alley!
Our plan was to motor through the smooth sea toward Port Camargue stopping about half way to anchor and continue the next day, but when we made the turn toward our intended bay, the winds picked up to a steady 23-25 knots and we turned back on course, let out the sails, and enjoyed a brisk sail to Port Camargue. We were met by a friendly staff and bustling marina life, with hundreds of locals enjoying all types of water sports in the area -- a grown-up's playground. The beaches are packed with sun bathers, and the sea is littered with boats of all kinds. We took advantage of the area's many bike paths by cycling everywhere.
Our Canadian fold-up bikes are still hanging in there seven years later, however, they've visited many bike shops in our travels. Since being blown into the sea (and being fished out) in Marina di Ragusa, Sicily this past winter they haven't been quite the same. We biked all over town searching for the one and only bike shop, and found it, but it was closed for siesta. We locked our bikes in the bike rack and walked to the restaurant next door and waiting in the shade sipping a Cola Light. Finally, the shop opened, Con hustled over to chat with the proprietor in his very best French to make a repair inquiry. Before he could finish his sentence, the proprietor told him to “Get lost!” As Con, looking dumbfounded, walked back to me, the man called over adding, “And take your fuxxing bikes out of my bike stand." Con did. When he settled back at the table I told him calmly, “He’ll be written up, along with the French people who don't pick up their dog's crap, and the French Coast Guards who only announce PAN PAN’s in French.” Other than that, France is a beautiful country.
Road Trip to Central France (July 14 - 18)
Sunday morning, we hired a taxi for 65 euro to take us to the Montpellier airport for our best-priced car rental, which may or may not be there for us, as we'd changed the rental contract from seven days to nine, and the whole thing canceled. (We think we're communicating with a computer...) Alas, it all worked out and we were off to Central France for two days to visit Con's brother Jan and wife Anne Marie. They have a beautiful holiday home with a spectacular view and a swimming pool which was extremely inviting with the 30 + temperatures. Below: this is a shot of the guest house Con and I stayed in behind Jan and Anne Marie's house. The pool is on the left. In the heat of the afternoon, the four of us set off on a hike, which is part of the Compestella de Santiago “Way of St. John” pilgrimage to northern Spain. Below, Jan and Anne Marie with me as we take a break on our hike. Jan is straddling the creek dug centuries ago by monks to bring the water into the village. Next visit was Albertine’s. She and sister Anna co-own a French farm for a vacation home. Con and I stopped in Figeau for lunch in this restaurant on the river. This medieval town is also part of the pilgrimage route and we spotted hikers with their tall walking sticks topped with the shell. This area of France is known for the various ways they make gizzards. Con had them in a salad which he was, he said, “great”. We wove through the back roads enjoying the countryside, arriving at Albertine's cozy farm house for drinks on the patio. Con couldn't resist the chance to cut her lawn and pretending he was operating a Zamboni.
July 19 -- Welcome to France, where the dogs share the table and dishes.
We drove to the pretty French town of Orange to view the Arc de Triumph (L'Arc D'Orange, Triomphe de L'Imperialisme Romain) a Roman monument built in the first century AD and the Roman theatre which holds 9,000 people and is used today for concerts and plays.
Further south, we drove through the grape fields which grew on the hillsides as far as our eyes could see with the Rhone River meandering throughout and toward Chateauneuf du Pape (The New castle of the Pope) arriving around 4 pm in 32.5 degree weather.
In 1309 to 1379 the French broke away from the Vatican and had their own papacy just south of where we are now, in Avignon. It was over a dispute with the Pope and the French King. The French Pope was fond of Burgandy and this was his second castle, located now in the centre of the vineyard -- Chateauneuf du Pape. The wines range from 19 euro to 185 euro per bottle. Yesterday, we had a picnic beside the grape vines. Our black Opel rented car in the background.
July 20 -- We stayed in a real 18th century castle, built in 1738, Chateau de Varenne overlooking the fields and fields of vineyards in the Rhone River valley.
We were upgraded to the terrace suite, not sure why, but maybe because everything is booked solid in this area and we got it last minute. Our room was in the corner on the right, with eight-foot tall windows on the front and side.
To get to the terrace, we climbed a winding stairway from our room, unlocked the private door and were in an oasis just for us -- two chaise lounge chairs and a table with cloth, two chairs and umbrella. Oh lala.
The view from our private terrace on the right. Inside our room is preserved like a museum. The outside grounds are perfectly groomed. By late afternoon when we arrived, it was mid-30s, another perfect day for a dip.
July 22 – Bloody Massacre Aboard
Summer is here and France is on vacation and why not, it's a beautiful place to spend your summers, or any time.
Returning to Big Sky, we discovered there had been a disgusting bloody massacre aboard Big Sky. A dead seagull was lying in a pool of dried blood covered with maggots all over it! We got out the hose, vinegar, soap, more soap, scrub brushes, more water, more soap, and finally the boat was cleaned. We discovered remains an undetermined substance like dried hard grizzle that we believe birds had been fighting over.
July 26 - August 8 – We departed from France on a 27-hour sail to just east of Barcelona. An unusual south wind arrived so we motored the entire way, arriving in Port de Masnou at 11 am. Stephen and Nancy, Canadian friends we met at Marina di Ragusa were there and greeted us with smiles. Sunday, I flew home to be with our family for a 10-day visit while Con completed a few tasks aboard and enjoyed time with Stephen and Nancy.
August 10, 2013 -- Back aboard and getting ready for guests
After 10 fabulous, jam-packed days in Alberta with our kids and grandkids, I was reunited with Con who had just returned from a long weekend in the Netherlands with family. Con timed our rendezvous as a surprise in Amsterdam and it was a huge surprise seeing his smiling face! We flew together back to Barcelona, rented a car and traveled to the tiny country of Andorra nearly hidden between the French and Spanish border in the beautiful Pyrenees mountains. People head there in droves for the tax-free shopping. We didn't have anything to buy. Nevertheless, we soaked up the gorgeous landscape, and carried on to Rennes le Chateau, a tiny mountain village steeped in mystery. Allegedly, powerful secret has been kept for nearly 2,100 years by just a few select people. The premise of the book, "The Holy and the holy blood" was written about this Abbey. Hidden below the alter were documents, like the marriage certificate of Jesus and Mary Magdalene suggesting that their descendants may still be alive today. The mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau is about the idea of re-establishing the Merovingian monarchy on the throne of France and possibly Europe.
Continuing to Biziers, one of the oldest towns in France situated on a high bluff, the River Midi runs through it. A population of 12,000 people (1000 were skilled women) who dug the canal to connect the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Driving on the Fonserannes, we watched the canal in operation. It was built in 1662 and still operates today, built on a grand scale with revolutionary engineering to ensure the walls didn't collapse. There are nine oval locks all in a row and I'm standing at lock number four or five. It takes about 30 minutes for a boat to enter the first lock and exit the ninth. The design was used to build future locks around the world.
We ended the night with a Farris Wheel ride above the ancient city. Now back aboard, it's back to work. Today, we concocted a bleach ratio to clean out the water tanks. Friends (Fernando, Karen, Jay and Jarrett) are arriving Monday for four days. We'll sail along the Spanish coast dropping them off in Denia.
August 14 – Our Ninth Wedding Anniversary!
Karen, Fernando, Jarrett and Jay are holidaying in Denia, Spain and took a train to our marina to share a few days of their holiday with us. We set sail from El Masnou (east of Barcelona) for a seven-hour journey to Vilanova, stopping half way to swim. It’s incredibly hot! Our guests are melting.
August 15th -- We say "Good bye"
We had a ball! It was only three days, but we were able to get in lots of laughing, eating, swimming, and great sailing weather. We rode the gentle winds for 64 nautical miles together tucking in each night to comfy marina's and spending the early evenings swimming in the sea at the beaches beside the marina. It was sad to see the crew leave as they filled our boat with a positive fun energy. Jarrett and Jay were naturals driving Big Sky in and out of the marinas and helping set the sails.
August 17 -- Booted out of bed by unexpected winds
Sauntering south along the Spanish coast dodging fishing boats and an oil platforms on calm seas, with near-perfect 10 - 15 knot we dropped anchor near Riomar just north of the river mouth where the sea was smooth and shallow. The shallows keep us two nautical miles from the beach. With a meter and a half between our keel and the sand, we slept as the boat barely moving, however, at 4:30 a.m. a north wind from nowhere turned our boat around pulling hard on our anchor (stern toward the land) and the meter-high waves threatened to bounce us out of our hold. I got behind the wheel, and Con tackled the anchor. In the pitch black, it's intimidating not knowing exactly which way is the direct bee-line to deeper water. And... for added colour, there's always a glitch; the anchor jammed in the winch with 12 meters yet to pull in. I spotted our depth reader dropping, knowing we were being dragged and held tight to the wheel waiting for Con's "thumbs up." When I got it, I turned Big Sky 90 degrees and high-tailed it out (in what I hoped was the direction to sea). Watching the depth finder, I knew it was the right direction. Con took the wheel, my nerves had peaked and I flaked out on the pilot house couch. The storm cell moved on by day break and we're back on the sea sailing gently on south east winds. We sailed slowly for thirteen hours, making 60 nautical miles further along the coast. The Spanish coast doesn’t have coves and bays to anchor always making long journey’s when there.
August 20 -- We sailed to Valencia, nearly a nine-hour sail, with fickle winds, but mostly from the right direction. I'm not sure what was more exciting, crossing the East-West Meridian line or having an exhausted green finch hitch a ride (after he tried landing on Con's head in the cockpit).
Front Row Seat for Summer
Ah, the life. Weather has cooled to 29 degrees, and from my position in the front row (which is really a stern seat on Big Sky) I have a perfect view of the sea through the south opening of the Club marina where we're enjoying a summer-time rate of 55 euro per night. The beach is around the corner to the left. The Spanish have a good life.
August 23 -- Spanish Dental Work
The complaints we have about dental work in Spain are: "Why it cost so much in Canada? and why it takes so long?" Con's upper molar crumbled into pieces the other day. We walked into a beautiful dental clinic in Valencia and he was seen right away. For 250 euro, he will have a brand-new crown on Wednesday and left with a good-looking temporary tooth.
Today, we biked throughout the city on what was once a river bed and is now a park stretching for miles and miles. The river was rerouted in 1957 when it flooded the city. Drivers in Valencia are not like drivers in most of the European cities we've visited. They are courteous. They stop for all bikes at cross walks. On the same token, you are expected to stop on the bike paths for pedestrian crossings. It all works, except when you have a Dutch guy winding his way through the intersections helter skelter. I ride behind him making apologies.
Weather is muggy, and reaching 40 degrees each day making the sea a great place to cool off at day’s end. This shot was taken early in the morning before the crowds arrived!
This guy was swimming by our pontoon this morning. His head was larger than a basketball, and if his body was against mine, he would measure from my head to my waist.
Cigar-smoking Charter Captain from Hell
Just settling in for the night, I heard loud shouting and then felt the pull of our stern line. Scrambling topside, we were eye-to-eye with a cigar-smoking captain and three dumbfounded-looking crew. They attempted to dock beside us and ran over our stern line catching it under their keel and were nearly on top of us! Con joined me and we pushed them off. The captain (cigar still dangling) backed it up again and with full speed attempted to dock again, this time nearly taking the side off a motor boat with their stern, and then God help him, he put his boat into full forward and his anchor was coming directly to our port side. Con and I shouted and pushed, and with the help of a local in a small dingy, managed to hold him off until they could tie him on. It was a charter boat, with a very unfriendly, unskilled captain.
August 26 -- The much needed rain arrived as anticipated, along with it a fantastic lightning and thunder storm from one to four am. I woke when the first rain drops came through our bedroom window gently washing over my face. I circled the boat topsides securing all the windows, missing two in my sleepy haste. By the time I came back inside, the thunder was booming directly overhead with the sky putting on the most dramatic light show. The rain came down like a river, and Con got up to make a thorough check of the windows discovering open windows. One over the kitchen dinette and the other the main bathroom. The good news is that the wind came from the north, which means it was a nice clean rain -- no desert sand.
Sunday in Valencia
Whoa! It is threatening rain today, but so far it's a no-show. The air is heavy, gray, and humid and despite the small successes the sun is having breaking through, it's 34 degrees at noon. The trickiest part of our lifestyle is remembering what day of the week it is. "Oh big deal!" you say, but everything is closed around noonish on Saturday and all day Sunday and we generally shop daily for our groceries. So far, my organized husband always has that task well planned. We've been having wonderful big salads each day with delicious colourful items artfully placed around the plate, like cold asparagus, pickled peppers, humus, cherry tomatoes, cold potatoes, cucumbers, nuts, etc. with a Spanish ham or smoked salmon.
September 3, 2013 -- We sailed away from Valencia early in the morning on comfortable a south-east winds arriving in Denia 7 ½ hours later. It's our second time in Denia, the first was in 2008 with our friends Shirlee and Mark aboard. We toured the pretty touristy streets and stopped at the town square for tapas. Spanish are friendly people, and overly patient with my slow-talk Spanish. Rising early, we sailed to an anchorage for the night a tough find with winds blowing into the rocks and shore. Water temperature: 30.4 in the late afternoon, and no jellyfish! Waking early, we lifted the anchor as the sun was rising casting an orange glow on the waters. We passed a few fishing boats and a couple of sail boats on our way to Cartagena, our second visit here too. The marina is better protected now, with a long breakwater that's been built since our visit in 2008. We sustained a lot of damage that year when the winds blew into the marina smashing Big Sky against the concrete quay and catching the fenders under the concrete rail bending our stainless steel rail like rubber.
Cartagena is an ancient city, inhabited since 227 BC. Its heyday was during the Roman Empire when it was known as the "New Carthage". The bay leading into Cartagena is a defensive naval port, and has been since the 16th century. Surrounding the port is a very productive mining industry which has its challenges as this area is lush in protected botanical species and animal such as the red fox, badger, flamingos, wild cats, and wild boar. We passed a few out-of-bounds locations along the way, protecting wildlife, and humans, as there's a large section under the sea where abandoned explosives have been deposited. We also passed an enormous fish farm.
It's Raining Cats and Dogs
Lots of lightning and thunder again today and lots and lots of warm rain -- the kind you like to go out and play in -- that is until the thunder and lightning are right overhead. We'd sucked our 1600 liters of water in our tanks nearly down to the last drop, so while Con biked to the dentist for his new crown, I dragged out the hose and began filling the tanks in the warm rain. When the lightning cracked overhead, I ended that task and went inside. We've been hit by lightning twice, so no sense playing Russian Roulette. The week-long carnival is just wrapping here in Melilla. Just outside the marina crowds of teenage kids gather electrifying the air with their energy, and much may be due to the open drinking and smoking of joints. I imagine it's hard keeping the drugs out of Melilla, since Morocco is a haven for hashish as it's grown openly on the hillsides. One of the main problems along the Moroccan coast is the illegal transportation of drugs by boat. In Melilla, it's more challenging with Morocco surrounding this town. To Con's right was a barrier of sorts where all the action was taking place, and behind me, police cars and ambulances lined the roads.
September 7, 2013 – Happy Birthday Grandson Dex turning five.
September 8 - 9, 2013 – We waiting for kinder winds and sea and sailed to Morocco from Spain today on a 27-hour, 163 NM journey. For those who know about sailing in the Mediterranean, you get it all or nothing -- the wind. We motored the entire way. I used a sea sickness prevention patch for the first time and it worked brilliantly!
The War Ship cut to starboard. We throttled back and came within 75 meters of a collision. Protocol would have had him give one blow on the horn (moving starboard). Good thing we were paying attention.
The marina in Saidia is modern, safe, with lots of friendly staff, free Wi-Fi, water and power, all for 11 euro per night. We'll stay for a week and then move on to Melilla where we’ll take a sleeper train to Casablanca, changed trains on the Marrakech. From there, we had an extraordinary trip in our rental car through the Sahara Desert to the southwest tip of the country, to the Algerian Border and back, experiencing a desert flash flood. It was an incredible experience.
Click the button to visit: Morocco Into the Desert in our Off the Beaten Path pages
September 18 -- Happy Birthday Lindsey!
The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the Plain
But, in this case, the rain in Spain has been falling mainly on Spanish enclave in Morocco -- Melilla.
Two tips: One, don't bother washing off the Sahara Desert (when it arrives with the few rain drops that fall each day) as it's a never ending battle to keep the red sand off your boat. Two, if you have an extra jar of chick peas don't make experimental cookies with it!
September 24 -- After two weeks in the Melilla marina, we're leaving this pretty Spanish tax-free town, situated on Morocco's north coast to sail to Ceuta, Spain (another enclave in Africa). It should be about a twenty-two-hour sail. The tax-free status is a great thing if you have things you need to buy. We didn’t need a thing. Like our memories of Ceuta from a previous trip there in 2008, Melilla has a good mix of Christians, Muslims, and Jews. It’s a 4.7 square mile city arranged in a wide semicircle around the beach and the port. The beautifully preserved fortress was built in the 14th century and well worth a walk around, if just for the views of the Mediterranean. We could remain longer, except that our 1600 litres of water are getting uncomfortably low, and the water in the marina is not potable. We laid out about thirty of our country flags to dry in the sun following the discovery that the storage bag had been compromised with water.
September 26 -- Overnight to Ceuta, Spain
Our overnight sail to Ceuta, Spain positions us just a stone's throw from the Strait of Gibraltar, which will take us out of the Mediterranean when we make our departure in about a week. We entered March 9, 2008, 5 1/2 years ago. Ceuta is another Spanish enclave just south of Gibraltar. Like a touching farewell, dozens of dolphins visited us off and on throughout the evening and early morning during our 21-hour sail.
We were on alert during our night sail for refugees and economic migrants attempting to exit Africa for Spain. They travel at night and without lights. I had been watching a few large blobs on the radar and stepped out into the cockpit every so often to check them through the binoculars but didn’t see anything. I thought I could hear voices in the dark, but nothing materialized through the darkness for my eyes to see. The largest radar blog was about four kilometres ahead and to port, traveling more or less with us.
Standing in the cockpit, holding the dodger rim, the beauty of the night surrounded me and was magnified by the quietness. Con was sound asleep in bed and I was in charge of our boat. Because of the quiet my senses were peaked. The sky was littered with stars and the Milky Way streak left a bright glow on the water below. I felt privileged to be a witness to it all that night. I went out again at 3 a.m. for another scan as the blob, now a kilometre away seemed to change course and moving away and toward Morocco on my port. Taking a 360 degree scan, I spotted what seemed to be impossible, a low-lying city behind us! There was nothing on the map! We'd left Melilla eleven hours before and city lights would have been long long gone. Through the binoculars I saw that the impossible city was electrolysis on the water! The sea was alive with bobbing silver bright bubbles under the moon's spotlight.
September 27 -- Africa to Europe Today
Not a breath of wind departed Ceuta for La Linea, Spain, tucking in behind the Rock. The mooring is less than half of Ceuta's, just 21 euro per night. Our two-hour crossing from Africa to Europe was exhilarating! It was impossible to count the numbers of dolphins we encountered. Pods came and went from our bow, and when e stopped to let a huge tanker traveling 20 knot go in front the dolphins leaping high for speed in front of the tanker bee-lined it to Big Sky. Our mooring in La Linea looks directly at Gibraltar's big rock. Thankfully, the water in this marina is potable, as we were nearly empty and filled it up. The washing machine is now humming in the background as I wash the first of a couple of loads. Rain is expected tomorrow, so today the laundry gets to hang in the sunshine, tomorrow the rest will go into the dryer.
October 2-3 -- Spain to Portugal
We left the Rock (La Linea, Spain) at sun break catching the fickle currents west. Unfortunately, we didn't interpret the current time-table book very well, because we fought the current nearly the whole 175 NM.
October 4 -- Happy birthday Courtney. Our baby turns 30
The sea was fine for the first few hours, and then became confused and choppy, however, with my sea-sickness prevention patch behind my ear, worked brilliantly. Arriving in the early afternoon in Marina di Portimao, hiked to the nearest internet and purchased 10 GB (big by most pay-as-you-go plans) for mere $2.50, including SIM card! The Immigration people were more than thorough, asking Con to explain every stamp and asked about the missing stamps, for instance when we left Spain for Morocco. We don't have answers. Please tell us: Is there anyone in this world that can explain how and why Immigration decide to stamp passports one day and not another. Good news: Piri Piri chicken is still $3.48. Tomorrow, we'll set out to speak to repair folks to fulfill our long wish list of items to build/repair/replace before the Atlantic crossing.
October 8 – Hello Portugal!
Known for their grilled sardines we ordered two plates at our first stop – not my favourite, but what the heck. They came fully intact -- head, tail and guts.
October 14 --Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian family and friends. We shopped today for "non-perishables" for the Atlantic crossing, and I spent the afternoon organizing and mapping where everything is aboard. This is just a pinch of the items aboard from microwave-ready meals, canned products, condiments, to toilet paper.
Today's road trip: To the Corner
We headed our rental west to Portugal's "corner," to the most southwest piece of land on continental Europe. It's spectacular, with the wind-ripped limestone grottos up and down each side of the point, and fishermen perched on the rocky ledges 70 meters above the crashing Atlantic. (Look on the ledge to see the fishermen.)
The fishermen are just below in this picture, on the edge of a cliff. One fisherman showed me his catch and said, "Fishing is good for my health; no stress, just all this," and opened his arms wide smiling at the sky and the ocean all around him.
Chaos Ignites the Locals into Action
With our long "to-do" list and rental car, we've been scooting around Lagos and Portimao getting parts for the boat and quotes from yards for various work. We put the wrong bike in the car for repairs, and driving back from a bike repair shop we took this cobblestone road, and Fwap! the front tire popped and every ounce of air left the tire.
Workmen, restaurant owners, staff, and locals all stopped what they were doing to shout at us words like, "Policia," "Policia," and "Policia." We were beginning to understand that we should call the police. Not sure if we were in big trouble or not, we stood looking dumbfounded. Locals made the calls for us, to the police, the car rental, the insurance company, a tow truck, and a taxi.
Within 45 minutes, police arrived and filled out a report; a tow truck arrived took away our rental; a taxi was waiting for us; and the City of Portimao backed their truck down the cobble-stone street and filled the hole.
The police informed us that the city would pay the rental company and we "do not pay anything." Two hours in the rental shop, and with 253 euro charged on our Visa, we were told to take out a claim with the City.
Tomorrow, we'll take the other bike to the repair shop, and visit Lagos and "The Corner" of Portugal, Sagres.
October 10 -- Take a look at our neighbour!
I scooped this photo off www.spindrift-racing.com. This boat is docked beside us in Portimao, Portugal. We spoke to Dona, the female (pretty) captain yesterday who, along with her twelve-person crew are waiting for the right winds to begin their race to the Bahamas in an attempt to beat the Route of Discovery record between Cadiz and San Salvador, Bahamas. They plan to take advantage of the Fall winds in the southern Azores. Con told Dona that he spotted a tropical storm forming west of the Canary Islands. She had too obviously, because she responded, "Yes, but we have to get from here to Cadiz (Spain) and then to the islands." This boat is the largest trimaran in the world. They plan to beat the seven-day record. She tells us with 35 knots of wind, the Spindrift can go 48 knots! Our average speed is 6 knots! Their trimaran weighs less than Big Sky by a few tons. Their length. hard to tell in this photo, is 40 meters, beam 23. Big Sky is 15 meters long by 4.6 meters. They hope to get to the Bahamas in seven days. They eat re-hydrated food -- no fancy cooking aboard, no microwave. It's solid racing!
October 17 -- Temperatures in Portimao are sneaking into the low 30s! With a boat-full of people again today (two in the engine room, two up the mast, and one changing hose in the forward bathroom), maintenance is full swing aboard. We'll have a quote for a gennaker sail next week, which is a downwind sail (a cross between a genoa and a spinnaker) which should be ideal for the crossing. It's not a fixed sail, so when you don't use it, you store it. Chances are once we set it and begin our Atlantic crossing, we'll not take it down until we reach the Caribbean.
A sad sidebar: Many North African migrants are seeking a better life in Sicily, the governor of Sicily has declared a state of emergency. The water between Tunisia, Libya, Malta and Sicily are being heavily patrolled by the Navy, as hundreds of migrants in overcrowded small boats are attempting to leave Africa. One night, while we sailed passed North Africa, listening to the VHF, a frightening warning was broadcast. Mariners were to be on the lookout for an unlit small boat holding eight people. It's concerning for many reasons. Our night lookout is done by radar and scanning for boat lights. We kept the door opened in order to listen as well, in case we heard voices. If we had come across them, we were to stay with them until the coast guard or navy arrived, but if they were sinking, I wonder how Big Sky could handle 300+ people aboard. Tuesday, 370 people were rescued, but sadly hundreds of deaths are being reported by the BBC. Last Friday, 33 people died from an over-crowded boat sinking, and 350 died the week before. Bodies are washing up on beaches. While on a small Greece island the summer before last, we witnessed a deflated dingy overloaded with 27 Syrian people (including infants and kids) being towed to the quay. We had been told moment before to depart the quay.
Just across the river from our marina is the pretty town of Ferraguda, a small touristy fishing village.
October 26 --
Big Sky was lifted just before the heavy rainfall and placed ever so gently on the hard as part of the "getting ready" steps to take us across the Atlantic Ocean in January. Since injuring my arm a year ago, and the slow, s-l-o-w process of healing, I drive Big Sky in and out of marinas and yesterday was proud backing her into the skinny slip. Con does the muscle work: tossing lines, tying fenders, etc. The blue cradle straddles both sides of the slip, with two slings lying deep in the water. When the boat is in position, Big Sky is lifted very carefully, putting just a bit of weight on the keel. Con then goes into the engine room to see if the shaft can turn (by hand) ensuring the sling isn't touching it. He gave the operator the "Okay" and we were lifted. The boat is then driven to the spot on land where another cradle holds her in place. The radar post on the starboard stern (back right) had to come down as well as the back stays (the operator has his hand on), which took a bit longer than expected. Not something we’ve even had to do before. The crane is now holding 30 tons (full diesel and water). If you're wondering why Big Sky is registered in "Edmonton" when we're from Calgary... it's because that's the only registration city in Alberta.
We’re now checked into a beautiful resort for our remaining days in Portugal while Big Sky is on the hard. I'm sitting on the balcony in my bathing suit; weather is beautiful; tennis is at 5 pm; and once I'm finished here, we'll head out for a swim.
October 27 -- Our beautiful resort in the Algarve. Do you think Big Sky is having as much fun?
Definition of LAZY: After breakfast, we plunked ourselves under two umbrellas and didn't get up again until lunch. Below, a view from the pool balcony along the Portuguese southern coast.
This is where we spent most of the day. In another hour, we will work up a sweat playing tennis.
Tennis is just behind in the trees. A bunch of ducks watched yesterday laughing every time we missed the ball!
October 28 -- Our last day in Portugal's paradise, but a swim isn't for the weak.. Con's before and after pictures. While posing for the photo, a giant wave snuck up behind him and knocked him down, whipping his feet out from under him like someone pulled the carpet and he flew backward onto his back!
This is a beautiful peaceful place in this beautiful world.
October 31 -- In Canada!
We left the beach the next morning, and enjoyed an overnight stop in the Netherlands with Nomie, Geert, Loes and Albertine over Indonesian dinner at a restaurant in Breukelen. The next morning, we flew to London, and then 9 1/2 hours further to Calgary.
Left Portugal for Canada October 30th
We traded in bathing suits for mittens and boots, arriving in Canada to snow and more snow. Yesterday, Con, Dex and Nick built a snow fort in Nick's back yard.
November 11 -- In snowy-cold Carrot River, Saskatchewan with daughter Brit, Kris, and 5-year-old Nolan. I bravely stepped out onto the deck to capture the Northern Hawk Owl in the backyard tree with our camera. Brit and Nolan spotted it while building a snow fort while playing in -25 degree C temperatures.
December 2013 -- My sweet 86-year-old mom.
Mom’s usual happy independent nature had changed. She seemed unsure and lonely. Doctor’s said she had a condition called, “Failure to Thrive” but something wasn’t right. She loves life. Her physical health has been slowing and she’s sleepy, and has been spending a lot of time sleeping in the daytime. That’s different for her.
Con and I were unsure what was going on with mom, and so was she, and her doctors too. We’d asked our daughter Lindsey and husband Les if they could visit her and they flew out this past fall. Lindsey said, “Something seemed out of whack,” but couldn’t put her finger on it. My brother Doug and wife Merrilee flew from Toronto following Lindsey and Les’ visit and set up a series of doctor visits to get to the bottom of it all. Her doctor of 30+ years didn’t shed any light on the situation and in fact gave her a clean bill of health.
December 2nd, Con and I arrived and immediately saw a different woman from our previous visit last April, and it broke our hearts. Another doctor was looking at mom deciding she was suffering from delayed grief from dad’s passing three years ago. Mom thought that was odd. She could barely lift her feet to take steps because walking for her was like dragging her feet through quick sand. She was exhausted physically and mentally. Still the doctor said, “depression.”
Con and I quickly arranged to have her in a beautiful one-room resort-like complex in Sidney where she can live independently surrounded by other people many of whom she knows, and enjoy three gourmet-like meals a day.
While setting mom up in her new apartment, the community of spry seniors continued to knock on her door regularly to ensure she's having a full social life. Still worried that mom wasn’t quite right, we set her up her computer on a desk ready with Skype so we could chat each day. Con and I then flew to the Netherlands. We were getting ready to cross the Atlantic. It was very difficult leaving mom not one hundred percent sure if she was okay.
From the Netherlands we called every night, and last night, she said she had to let us go because she had a lunch date in a few minutes. Feeling positive that this is the exact treatment to get her back on her active feet again, we relaxed. Sadly, there's no family nearby, but friends have rallied around her expressing their love and concern and handling any task too difficult for her at the moment.
December 16 -- Flying back to the boat today
Our week in the Netherlands with family finished our seven weeks away from Big Sky. Bunking in with Con's younger sister, Albertine, we caught up on sleep and finalized a number of technical/communication pieces in anticipation of our January Atlantic Crossing, but most importantly, caught up with family. The great nieces and nephews are growing quickly.
Two year-old Adrian, grandson to Con's older sister. He's teaching me Dutch.
Below: Cousins Adrian and Isha
Sunday night, Albertine hosted brunch for eleven. All six of Con's siblings were together for the occasion, with Hugo arriving the other day because he’ll join us in Morocco along with Geert for the Atlantic crossing.
Con's mom (in the centre of the picture) will be 98 in April.
Left to right: me, Jon and Anna (twins), ma, Geert, and Hugo.
Right to left: Con, Willem, Annamarie, Albertine, and Loes.
Four brothers: Jon, Geert, Hugo, and Con
Two sisters: Anna and Albertine
December 22 -- Mom's in Crisis
Con and I flew from Amsterdam, arriving in sunny Faro, Portugal, letting the damp Netherlands' cold seep out of our bones. We were "home." That morning, Con and I had a frank talk about mom. She wasn’t getting better and in fact was in crisis; I needed to return. Moments before Big Sky was scheduled to be lowered back into the ocean, Con booked flights back to Canada. I called down to the guys with the crane, ready to put Big Sky into position to move her to the water, “Please cancel, we must leave town.”
Our Atlantic crossing had to be postponed.
I pulled our suitcases out from the truck of our rental and repacked our bags right there on the street in front of the yard, and we left, taking a three-hour bus ride to Lisbon. We’d be with mom by morning.
TAP the Portuguese airline with the 80 percent NOT ON TIME record, has been 100 percent NOT ON TIME for our six out of six flights with them. The departure didn't happen until nearly noon, causing us to miss all our connections. TAP claimed, "fog," but all the other flights were operating. Nevertheless, with the help of Air Canada in Heathrow, it appeared we would have to hunker down for a long few days of travel, with our last stretch getting us into Vancouver at 2:30 am, for our 7 am flight to Brentwood Bay. Arriving at mom's apartment door at 8 am, we were shocked when mom eventually opened the door and fell into my arms. "Barbie, I thought I would die." Sometime the afternoon before, she'd fallen and couldn't get up. Freezing cold, laying on the floor, she said she was "welcoming death".
Con picked up a tray of breakfast and I hand-feeding mom, and put her into a warm bath, observing that she was unable to hold herself up on the bath stool. I climbed in with my clothes on and washed her, folding the fluffy towel around her body and holding her gently. I moved into her apartment with her for two days, realizing that she now needed 24-hour care, unable to wash, walk, feed herself, or dress. And, she was sleeping all the time.
On the third day, I contacted Con who was living at her house, to “call an ambulance”. She needed professional assessments to understand her rapid decline in health.
What we learned was that she was dying, and had been suffering from a series of small strokes for the past six months. She didn’t know it, neither did her doctors. They were affecting the right side of her brain, all of them undetected, causing depression as well as heaps of loving emotions. She had been struggling privately over the many months to remain clear headed but never lost her focus on her love for her family and friends and expressed it many times to me throughout the days I've been with her.
Her blood was the other culprit. She had low hemoglobin and platelets, but more concerning was the drastic drop in platelets to 20,000. At 30,000 a person might be able to manage with drugs, but at 20,000 she'd been hemorrhaging and her right back brain is filling with blood.
Yesterday, I noticed her usually flat stomach was swollen. A CT scan indicated that the blood was also hemorrhaging into her spleen. They won't operate. Sometimes the blood can create an outer strong shell in that area and stop the bleeding. All of this creates low blood pressure. This morning, they will give her more blood. This all aside, she has an infection, a bacteria that she's fighting off with extra strong antibiotics.
Late last night, Dr. Taylor called asking for her Directive. She has a Living Will, and Con and I dressed and drove down to give it to them.
Doctors Taylor and her GP for many years, Forster will be with her first thing this morning. They told us last night that she may not last long. We stayed with her for a bit, making sure she was comfortable, caressed her, and she heard me tell her many times how important she is to me and to everyone and how loved she is. I stroked her head, and she said, "It's so nice to feel my touch." Smiling, she fell back asleep. She's coherent to a certain point but now rambles about odd things, but always returns to focus. She may think she's dying, but we haven't told her. She told me yesterday that she wants to, "Go home, to heaven."
Doug will arrive this morning. He, Merrilee, Con and I have been a team, working with the doctors daily and in constant email and phone discussions throughout all of this.
Mom will be moved to Palliative Care this morning. It's a peaceful area in the hospital, the place where my dad spent his last six days.
There are many blessings in all this. She has had strokes but didn't know. She wasn't left in a vegetative state. She has no pain. She's filled with love and told us, "It's okay if I die now, I've had a great life." I've watched as her friends rally around her to express their affection and deep love for her. It's been a beautiful experience for me to witness such humanity. Mom and I have a special bond and being able to be together at this time is a gift for both of us.
We don't know how much longer she may have now, and the doctors don't think too much more. Please don't feel sad, but embrace this as I am as a moment to experience the wonder of life and death and acknowledge an extraordinary woman whose greatest gifts have always been her unconditional love, selflessness, and a sense of humour.
She is so beautiful inside and out and everyone who knows her is shocked at the speed of her decline. Women she's known for years stop to hug her and encourage her to get better, holding her gently telling her that they love her.
Mom passed away in the early hours of December 27th, 2013. My life has now changed forever not having her in it with me.