Road Trip 2

After leaving Bernay we headed to Chailland where we’d booked into a chateau, La Sicorie, for a couple of nights. A lovely couple own this beautiful house and they have just two huge rooms they let as bed and breakfasts – home-made jams and yoghourts, fresh yummy coffee and gorgeous French bread. It’s always gorgeous when fresh, though leave it too long (like have a conversation on the way home from the bakery) and it becomes a baseball bat.

Sunrise

Lovely spacious room

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The library in the small tower

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The main house

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Approaching the chateau

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Sunrise from our room

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The tower housing the library

We stopped here to see our friend Luke who has bought and is renovating the old town hall, making it into a music studio. It promises to be an amazing space once finished. I hope it is a tremendous success once he has it up and running. He will have accommodation on the top floor too for visiting musicians. Such an exciting (ad)venture!

We then headed to Londigny to our friends Maxine and Michael who moved here about four years ago. They have renovated a fab property and garden, in the middle of nowhere (literally as they’ve only just been given a yet-to-be-sanctioned-by-the-Marie street name), and we stayed in their small and perfectly formed gîte. Their garden is a delight with comfy chairs and seating everywhere you look – just fabulous. And they are so happy. We had great fun, two days of laughter. We visited a lovely picturesque town called Verteuil, where I bought possibly the best ‘brioche’ loaf I’ve ever tasted from the Auberge Salon de Thé.

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Maxine, Michael and Clive

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Age range? Pah!

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Aged 3 tp 12 ans? Porquoi?

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Cooling our feet in the stream

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The Chateau at Verteuil

From here we headed further south to Mussidan, staying with Clive’s friends Yan and Sian, along with their four mad as badger, great fun canines. Very hot weather while we were here and alas Yan was working nights (he is given different driving schedules each week) so we didn’t see nearly enough of him. Had a good catch up with Sian and a restful couple of days.

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With Yan and Clive keeping cool in the shade

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Ted had the measure of Clive

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Praying mantis saying hello

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Clive, Sian and Yan

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Sian with 2 of their pooches

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Keeping guard

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Ted takes charge of us both…

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We then veered from our originally planned route and headed to Carcassonne, booking an Airbnb flat about 2km walk from the old city, where we spent a whole day exploring, having an excellent lunch at a restaurant called L’Escargot (I had snails! Need to learn how to prepare them as my garden is full of the darned things).

And on to Andorra

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The view from our balcony this morning, breathtaking every day.

 

 

Road Trip

Well we’re not on Distant Drum, we’re on a road trip down through France en route to Andorra for a bit of a break. Clive planning the winters work on DD ready for next year – we’re thinking to head to the Ostend at Anchor Festival in May and just keep going… watch this space.

Back to today and we have arrived at our second destination, a gorgeous chateau called La Sicorie where we plan to stop a couple of days, catching up with an old friend Luke for lunch tomorrow and to see his music studio in Saint Germaine le Guillaume. The last two days we were in Bernay staying at the lovely La Ferme en Ville, and yesterday we visited the amazing Chateau Du Champ De Bataille, which has been incredibly renovated by the architect Jacques Garcia – he used to visit it as a child and bought it in a wrecked state in 1992. He has since renovated the chateau, the surrounding buildings and the 41 hectares of grounds, and it is said to now rival Versailles. We started in the gardens and just loved them. Here are some photos…..

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We walked 5 Km! More later….

For those of you of an emotional disposition, stop reading now

It’s been a year… in many senses

To cut a long story short

Eventful journey home from last year’s Oostende voor Anker Festival followed by a few short sailing trips round the coast and up and down rivers during the summer, when Clive felt well enough. He started suffering angina about three months after his triple heart bypass operation. Thankfully this has finally settled down and he’s been given the all clear by his surgeon, Will Davies, who we saw at the new Papworth Hospital (in the City of Addenbrookes) about three weeks ago.

The new Papworth Hospital in Cambridge

The new 'State of the Art' Papworth Hospital at Addenbrookes, Cambridge

My mum was in poor health even before dad died last March, and she became increasingly anxious and forgetful last summer. Living four hours away from each other was becoming more and more worrying and together with my brothers, we planned moving her to Harwich, buying the house next door to our cottage in order to be able to look after her. During the house purchase her health deteriorated rapidly and though we successfully bought no. 17, we had only just moved in, got the stair lift fitted, brought her furniture over, tearing hair out to get it all ready before my older brother Tim drove her and her carer to Harwich on 14thDecember, and alas she was at the end of her life. She only had a few hours in the house and I don’t believe she knew where she was, she was quite delirious (after been given the all clear to move by her doctor). She was suffering pneumonia in her right lung and her left was full of fluid and she spent her last few days in Colchester Hospital. We were all able to be with her over her final weekend and I was with her when she died peacefully on 17thDecember. So a bit of a shell shocked Christmas and New Year. We were only able to think about the New Year once we hit Robbie Burns night towards the end of January.

Mum at 21 years old in 1949

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I’ve had a chaotic time sorting out our parent’s house, collections of stuff going back decades, in some cases I’ve found things dating back hundreds of years. I managed to get some items into auction however most value these days is in the property, not the chattels. While I have dealt with the house clearing, my brothers have been dealing with all the administrative side of mum’s death. As dad had only recently died it has all been rather too emotional.

My gorgeous old dog Fergus at 16 years and two months, passed away on Tuesday. After flatly refusing to come aboard Distant Drum, he moved in with my lovely friend Elizabeth Taylor for the last four and a half years, coming for seaside holidays with us a couple of times a year. He’d had a great life, much loved, full of mischief and fun. He will be so terribly missed by us all. The following photos were taken just a week before he passed away, on a seaside visit to Harwich, where he happily topped off his stay with one of his favourite pastimes, chasing a cat

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Farewell Mr Fergus

Clive and I sailed to the 20thOostende voor Anker Festival on Monday, a much needed break from all that has been going on, and what a great festival it is. We have our good pals Sue & Howard here plus other friends too, and have met up with new friends we’ve met in previous years. Here are some photographs….

Distant Drum in the centre with her red stripe along the bow, after we’d raised our bunting, with The Mercator behind – a great ship to visit, it was used for exploration including to The Easter Islands in the 1930s

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The Vole au Vent raised on her pylons in the harbour – impressive

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There are some amazing murals around Ostend!IMG_2476

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Distant Drum from The Mercator, with Sue & Howard aboard in the second photo

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Clive, Barry and Howard at the Mayor’s Reception in the city hall yesterday morning, with Cpn’ Jack and Fergus

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I’ve been working with my Reiki at St Helena Hospice, the Lifehouse Spa & Hotel in Thorpe Le Soken, and more recently I have joined the lovely team of Reiki Teachers working with Taggart King and Reiki Evolution nationally

From now I will try and keep more up to date with the blog. With all that has happened the last year, only touched briefly on here, I found it hard to know where to begin, or where to stop, so this summary is just to bring the year to life and your imagination.

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Bog Watch Ostend: 5 out of 5, as long as you get in the right shower, no 1 as you enter, after that, shower 3, 3 out of 5, shower 2 and shower 1, 1 out of 5! The main difference from last year is that ladies showers are back working, yay!

 

 

 

It’s been too long….

I keep thinking, I really must write our blog, then a few more weeks go by. So I thought I’d best catch up, in brief, otherwise any peruser will be asleep wading through adventures, non-adventures, upheavals and settled-down-to-rest bits. A few events took place all at once and I thought at the time, if I wrote this as a script for a soap opera, it would be thrown out as too fantastical.

Our last blog featured mishaps and vandalism to Distant Drum at Ha’penny Pier. After many months of wrangling with our insurers, she was repaired beautifully at Fox’s Marina in Ipswich and was relaunched in time for this years Ostend at Anchor Festival. The little bastards who had untied her ropes, causing all the external damage, were all caught and questioned by the police. Two of them were let off with a caution as the third admitted total responsibility, and no remorse. He failed to turn up to his court hearing and at the second hearing date ended up with a £20 fine and a four month youth offending order. I felt really sorry for the copper who had worked so hard to bring the little bastard to justice. The damage caused by his actions ran into the thousands, and our insurance premium increased by £200. Ce la vie! As to the salt water damage, we keep finding niggling things to repair. The generator is the main victim. We were very happy that the insurers have so far been helpful and relatively straightforward to deal with.

Before and after repair, with a couple of shots of Boris for good measure!

In January my mum was rushed into hospital with congestive heart failure, which she survived. I helped dad get the house ready for her coming home and dad wisely engaged Maxine, who had been taking mum out once a week for a couple of years, to become their ‘house-keeper’ as he realised he couldn’t cope looking after mum on his own, and she was too unwell for a few weeks following her scare.

Then in early February we had a fortnight’s notice that Clive’s double heart bypass operation was at last scheduled for the 19th. This major op was bumped one day to the 20th and turned out a triple bypass. It was a scary time, especially the day of the operation. He finally came round at about 8 in the evening, though heavily sedated. It was horrible seeing him so distressed, bruised, bashed around, beaten up, sternum jigsawed in half and wired together and yet he is alive, thankfully, with a rebooted heart which will likely outlive all the rest of him. I don’t think his blood can believe how fast it can now whizz round his body, a veritable rollercoaster of a ride. It’s four months later and we’ve yet to have the follow-up with his surgeon, though he’s doing really well, still in a deal of pain and as I already said, alive! It’s incredible what they can do nowadays…

Clive’s arm after an artery was removed for the bypass. I daren’t post pictures of his chest, OUCH!

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I got Clive home from Papworth on the evening of the 27th February, just before the blizzards hit. The last hour of our journey was thick snow tumbling down from a dark sky making the A120 into a scary skate-rink. Towing a caravan, my accommodation whilst in Cambridgeshire, added to my sense of unreality.

Sweeping our street with a couple of my neighbours after the first night of snow, and the car park outside the Thai. We gave up trying to clear the snow after three nights. It’s not a lot compared to other countries, however we don’t have the mechanisms to deal with it because it normally melts within a few hours.

Five days later my father died, unexpected apart from his 89 years. I couldn’t leave Clive who needed pretty constant support the first fortnight. My older brother Tim had driven over to Cheltenham Hospital to see dad as soon as mum had rung him to say he’d been rushed in that morning. Dad didn’t want any fuss and sent Tim off to look after mum. He died about an hour later. Shortly after Tim had got to Broadway the hospital rang to ask him and mum to go in – never good news. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t help or be there. It’s a four hour journey so I wouldn’t have made it there anyhow. Both my brothers were marvellous, taking up the gauntlet of support.

Dad and mum taken by Lake Tarawera in New Zealand when they came out to find me after my three years travel a few years ago (I love this shot) and 89 years ago my dad just a little baby with his big brother Peter 

Four days later on 7th March it was mum’s 90th birthday and Tim & Guy were both in Broadway, taking mum for lunch when she got a phone call from her doctor’s surgery to tell her she has breast cancer. We were all furious. Couldn’t they have waited a few days at least? Her husband of 63 years had just died, it was her 90th birthday, I couldn’t believe it, especially when they weren’t phoning to tell her there was an appointment at the hospital the next day – the appointment they gave her wasn’t until June for crying out loud. We found out a week later she was to go on tablet treatment. By this point we invoked BUPA to get her seen far more urgently. Her heart is still not right and with the cancer too she is on an embarrassment of drugs. So we’re taking each day as it comes and thankfully Maxine has taken on the role of ‘house-keeper’, seeing mum for a few hours each day. She is great at getting mum to go out every now and again, especially as cream tea season has now started.

With help from two friends Duncan and George we sailed to the Ostend at Anchor Festival in Belgium on 10th May. A cracking event once again and a great thing for Clive to do as he was beginning to go stir crazy with the healing process from the operation. Sue and Howard were there already as were Julie and Keith who had saved a space for us with their little boat Maryll.

A cutter coming in to the harbour at Ostend behind us, followed by two shots of DD in situ, one with Maryll tucked beside us

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After a weekend of celebrating boats, ships and all things sea related, Duncan, Julie and I headed to Hook of Holland to get our ferry home on the Monday 14th May. I had my first Reflexology exam the next day and the others had work commitments. A suicide on the tracks at Rotterdam set our travel plans awry causing us to miss our ferry (by at least three hours). On realising there was no way we could reach Hook in time, we changed our tickets to the overnight crossing. My plans for completing my revision aboard the afternoon crossing went down the North Sea with the fish, sigh. Instead I did my best between boarding at 7.30pm and hitting the hay at about 11pm, arising at 5am ready to disembark in Harwich at 6am. I wearily arrived at college in time for the exam at 10.30 and to my absolute amazement scored 84%.

I remained at home a further week to sit the second and final exam where I was able to complete all the revision I needed, reading everything through for the third time. The second paper had much harder questions, however I got 90%, YAY! I found this out on the ferry back to Holland on the Tuesday night, heading back to Ostend and Clive, towing two new pumps, binoculars and all sorts across Holland and Belgium, reaching Distant Drum by 1.30pm on the 23rd.

Antwerp station (which is really impressive) and graffiti en route to Ostend from Roosendaal

We took a trip to Bruge the following day, a beautiful old town, one which unusually wasn’t bombed to hell and back during WW2.

Some random shots taken round Bruge including Clive at the oldest pub in town, plus the last picture some whacky sculptures on the beach at Ostend. The whale sculpture is made out of plastic pulled up from the sea in fishermen’s nets

Keith very kindly came down to meet us in Ostend on the Friday and helped us sail up to Middleburg in Holland the next day. This involved hugging the coast to Vlissingen and getting through the lock gate in the Wester Schelde Estuary between the North Sea and the River Schelde, just in time for the Blue Wave. This is a process of timing the opening of all the bridges to enable vessels to pass down the river, scheduled once every 2 hours west to east, and east to west on a separate two hourly timetable. This ensures minimal disruption to the flow of traffic and people along the seven mile stretch to Middleburg. This involved dashing madly from one bridge to the next, then slowing and waiting for the next one to lift, etc, etc.

Between bridges

We caught the train one day to see Keith at Bergen Op Zom and apart from this enjoyed a week’s continued resting before Duncan came out to help us sail home again.

Bog Watch (is back!)

Ostend has very pleasant bathrooms, however the ladies shower block was exactly that, blocked off. I didn’t worry as we have a shower aboard DD. When I did use the men’s showers they were pretty good though the tokens only give you about 5 minutes of hot water, normally enough except when you’ve only one token and wanted to swap over to let the next person in haha. A 5 overall.

Middleburg sailing club had great showers and loos, definitely a 5 out of 5.

What a beautiful town Middleburg is! Well worth a visit. I leave you with photographs of Middleburg and will continue the adventures in our next blog.

 

 

 

 

A Series of Unfortunate Events

An adventurous few weeks a.k.a. ‘a series of unfortunate events’, has been had. The annual sea shanty festival was on the second weekend on October, where hundreds of hairy singing sailors descend on the town from all over Europe. We brought Distant Drum onto the pontoon at Ha’penny Pier in good time for the weekend. Our pal Roddy came to stay and had the forward cabin all to himself. Chris rocked up on Gulvain on the Saturday with his fun crew including Zak & Minty, and our lovely friend Nico who asked to stay aboard with us as we had a comfortable pilots berth for him to sleep on. Two other boats rafted onto us and the pontoons were full of Thames Barges, sailing boats and cruisers.

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Distant Drum with her two rafting neighbours ready for the Sea Shanty

On board we’d had some trouble firing up the generator, finally getting it to spark up on the Thursday however it was no go on the Friday. We were so busy Clive thought we’d leave it until after the weekend and then he’d take a look at it. After all, the solar panels were keeping the batteries well topped up.

On the Saturday our friend Jo and her son Paddy came over to help celebrate Jo’s birthday. We had a divine dinner at Thai Up At The Quay, meeting up with Chris, Nico and crew at The Alma later on. After Jo & Paddy had gone home, Nico retired to his berth and we returned to DD about 11.30. We chewed the fat for a while in the cockpit and I went to bed about 1am, leaving Clive and Roddy to their stories.

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Jo & Paddy behind Clive and Howard at The Alma

I was rudely awaked by a panic stricken Clive at 2am – our boat was sinking! Roddy had stepped into water in the forward cabin as he went to bed. The bilges were full of water and neither bilge had automatically kicked in. Full scale panic ensued, not good when all you want to do is go back to bed. Poor Nico, like me, was filled with sleep. Our adrenalin finally kicked in as we hurriedly re-dressed and set to action. Clive immediately had closed all the seacocks while we tried calling Chris and Howard to see if they had standalone pumps, to no avail. I asked the people still awake aboard one of the Thames Barges for help, however it was immediately clear they were far too drunk to register my panic and would have been a liability if they had offered a hand.

Buckets and buckets of water were passed through the ceiling hatch of Roddy’s cabin where I chucked them overboard. In the meantime Clive got the forward bilge pump started and that chugged away emptying into the sea with no further ingress. Nico rapidly dismantled the aft bilge pump and it looked fine, so once we’d sloshed out about 100 more buckets of water through the hatch into the sea, the boys hot wired the aft bilge pump directly to the batteries and finally, thankfully, it fired up, emptying the rest of the water out – we reckoned about 2 tonnes of water in total. Once we could see to the bottom of the hull under all the floor hatches, there was no obvious water ingress. We cautiously opened the seacocks for both toilets and again, no water seepage, so we left these open and at 5am finally crashed out. Oh my days!

After an hour Nico was up and sailing Gulvain at 6am. We were up shortly after and wondering what on earth had happened. If Roddy hadn’t been sleeping in the forward cabin we would have woken with water round our necks and taken the neighbouring two boats with us. The water was only a couple of inches from flooding the batteries as it was.

Somewhat dazed, we had day three of the Shanty Festival to get through, with more friends, Sonia and Nigel, Ruth and Giles all from west Essex, joining us for lunch and the final shanty afternoon concert in St Nicholas Church. We were so tired it was good to have an excuse to do very little. Distant Drum was thankfully fine, no further water ingress. Clive opened the engine seacock and all was well. Process of elimination, it must be coming via the generator…..

We kept Distant Drum on Ha’penny Pier pontoon for the week whilst Clive spent the Monday and Tuesday aboard investigating why the bilge pumps hadn’t automatically started, as they’ve always worked since we bought DD. He replaced some forward pump pipework and located the ‘switch’ on the aft pump, made sure all was clean, clear and the trigger was working, then worked back investigating the wiring, finally coming to some wires which had short circuited – the culprits. He carefully replaced all these and thankfully the pump fired up no problem. There’d been salt water ingress into our water tanks so the next essential task was to empty these (into the bilge which carried on working superbly) and fill them with clean fresh water, twice, then add a neutralising product into both tanks, fill them up and empty again and again. This task needed DD to be in a Marina and we decided we should take her over to Shotley on Friday, when we had a good weather window, to execute said task.

It was my birthday on the Wednesday and I was woken with the most beautiful bunch of flowers, all my favourite colours – good old Clive, I thought he’d just gone to make a cup of tea! And he announced he’d booked a table that evening for the Mistley Thorn, which we’d not yet been to though we’ve passed it hundreds of times. And he willingly suggested a trip to John Lewis in Ipswich to buy me a birthday present – hurrah. It was a lovely day and a fabulous meal in the evening. We’d caught the train to Mistley and were back in good time to meet Sue & Howard at the Globe afterwards. A perfect end to a perfect day, especially after the near sinking trauma.

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My lovely flowers from Clive, all my favourite colours

Thursday night Clive went to the pier to check DD’s ropes at about 12.30am as it was blowing up a storm. Some young lads on bicycles passed him on his way down and hurled general abuse at him, which he ignored and by the time he’d reached the pier they’d disappeared. He checked all was well, tightened a couple of ropes, made sure the fenders were all good and returned home. At 2am I got a phone call from Wendym, one of our neighbours who lives in a flat overlooking the quay. She thought I ought to come and check on our boat as she’d seen some kids down there on bicycles and all the boats seemed to have moved.

For the second time in less than a week I was up and dressed in seconds and flying down to the pontoon. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. DD was jammed into the corner of the pier and the pontoon at an angle where her fenders weren’t protecting her hull, riding up and down in the wind and waves against an iron pillar and crossbar. The two fishing boats were in a completely different place too and as I ran down I saw another neighbour Nick, who’d been out walking his dog , and he was desperately trying to move DD forwards. Her ropes had all been untied, as had the fishing vessels, by the little bastards who’d hurled abuse at Clive only an hour or so before. We just couldn’t move her with the wind and tide and her 25 tonne weight. I ran back home and woke Clive up, who managed to climb aboard to get ready to start her engine to move her forward. This was not straightforward as the floor was up for the investigation and repairs he’d been carrying out, the fuel transfer was needed and the engine’s seacock opened before he could fire her up. Nick and I managed to move two fenders, however the damage was done, we could see the teak rubbing strake along her side was smashed to pieces and paint on her starboard aft had been rubbed off. In addition Nick showed me one of the fishing vessels had two planks ripped open – she’d been rammed under the visitors centre by the wind and tide and Nick had only just managed to pull her free on his own and secure her to the pontoon before he tried to help DD.

This was so upsetting, made all the more traumatic as Clive is waiting to have a heart bypass operation and I was fearful he’d have a heart attack there and then.

Since these two events, we have been expecting the third… and this fortunately was far less stressful, for us at least. The number plates on Clive’s old van, which he’s about to sell, had been stolen and were on another vehicle robbing garages of fuel etc round the county. Luckily when this event took place we were down in Devon for the weekend and had cast iron alibis.

Harwich is normally such a nice place to live! It is! I promise!

With the help of Harwich Haven Authority’s CCTV footage and the vigilance of other neighbours, and an email to our local Councillor Ivan Henderson, we finally managed to secure the attention of our local constabulary with a diligent officer assigned to nail the little tykes responsible, who it turns out have been marauding round the entire town unhindered for the last couple of years, despite all of them being on curfew apparently, supposedly to be kept indoors by their parents from 7pm to 7am daily. Sigh! The three responsible for untying DD were all identified and surprisingly all confessed to being on the pontoon with one of them admitting to letting all three boats go. They’re still out and about most evenings – you couldn’t make it up.

In the meantime, the cost of the damage has been estimated by two Marinas at between £6k and £9k, this without checking whether the self-steering gear has been damaged, which could double the upper estimate.

Clive identified the leak as coming from a small hole in the generator exhaust which is fed sea water via the generator seacock. We don’t fully understand the series of events, just that it happened and the source has been identified. The generator was under water during the flood and isn’t firing up so will need repairing – we hope not replacing – though hopeful that the insurance will cover whichever is needed. Now to get the claims in!

That’s enough excitement for this blog, progress will be uploaded soon…

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Safely moored in Shotley Marina, with the pictures above showing some of the damage caused by her ropes being let go, and the iron pillar and crossbeam she was smashing against in the storm

 

September

We left Shropshire after a lovely al fresco breakfast, waving goodbye to Bob and Jude, and one of our neighbours who came to see us mooving off…

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The day after we returned to Harwich, Clive’s pals Campbell and Angie came over for the rest of the Bank Holiday. Being the adventurers we are we caught the ferry over to Felixstowe beach and thought we’d walk into the town. Half way there Clive’s sandals completely disintegrated. (We didn’t laugh too much, well we may have…) Barefoot he wandered the streets looking for a shoe shop to get some replacements. You just can’t get the footwear these days!

The container ships are so impressive from the little ferry.

We had two more 50th Birthday parties this summer, one our lovely friend Beanie who had bought a whole cows leg to feed us all – don’t look if you’re vegetarian. Quite something!

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Bean, looking good at his first half century!

Fergus came to stay for another fortnight and we took this selfie after a walk at Wrabness. What I love about living by the sea is the smell of the sea air, the uninterrupted views and the sounds of sea birds, evocative of holidays which is both therapeutic and relaxing.

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I caught the train to Cambridge last week to meet the wonderful Sally Cunningham, who I haven’t seen for 17 years. We didn’t draw breath! It was succour for the soul. If only she didn’t live so far away (Australia! Goddammit!)

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Check out the tired dog outside a particularly good coffee house…. arf arf!

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I went to see my parents and their bank has closed the last branch in the village, which seems nuts as it is a particularly thriving tourist destination and has a considerable ageing population who do not go in for internet banking, apart from my dad who has determined to learn how to use it at the age of 89 – go dad! Instead of employing staff in the branch, they now pitch a mobile bank there, with three staff aboard, three days a week. It’s not as if Lloyds can’t afford to keep a branch open! And at least in the branch the staff have access to a loo, a kitchen, chairs to sit on while they serve, etc. Whatever happened to workers rights? Not to mention the customer!

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Clive went sailing with Chris, Minty and crew on Chris’s racing yacht Gulvain, the first aluminium yacht made in the late 1940s, a couple of weekends ago. Here they’ve just cast off and are about to head up the Stour. Gulvain though longer than Distant Drum is alot narrower, and from the cockpit you cannot see where you are going for the size of the sails, hence the need for many crew.

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I’ve come for a few days to Andorra and it’s absolutely stunning. The views from the balcony of the apartment are something else. Everything is vertical!

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The photo above this one is of a quite spectacular new build. You can make out the ski lifts in the centre of this photo. In the winter this is all covered in metres of snow.

Tomorrow I leave early to head back to Barcelona for my flight home. I sincerely hope all goes smoothly, what with Ryan Air and Catalan Independence Protests as potential ‘spanners in the works’. And of course the Spanish customs officials… wish me luck.

Hasta Mañana!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Shropshire for a Wedding

Alas a Funeral first… my uncle Peter died at the age of 91 on the 3rd August, fortunately with my aunt Sheila and his family all at home – my cousin Mark and his wife Sally having come to stay from Australia with their two sons Ben & Nicholas. The funeral was last Thursday and I was honoured to do the Tribute for him. I was very fond of Peter and though he suffered Alzheimer’s in his latter years he always seemed to recognise me until just a few months ago. Thanks to Ma & Pa, my brothers and I all stayed at Down Hall with our respective partners, where a massive “Essex” wedding was taking place over the two days we were there. We couldn’t fault the staff and the food was exceptional (and so were the prices of the wine!) A good place to base ourselves for Peter’s send off, though I’m sure it was hard for Dad who was very close to his brother. They’d never once argued in the 89 years they knew each other.

The day after celebrating Peter’s life, Clive and I headed to Shropshire to our good pals Bob and Judith’s house for their daughter Hazel’s wedding to Dan Hedge (even their names are a perfect match!) Hazel had invited me to be ‘Bad Ass MC’, preforming a mock wedding ceremony which went down a storm. The house and garden were magnificent, the decorations exceptional and all the girls looked beautiful. Hazel’s three sisters Laura, Louisa and Tamsin along with Dan’s sister Zoe were bridesmaids, Dan’s brother Jake was best man, the neighbours helped with providing a car parking field and a camping field, other friends of Bob & Jude not only helped with the catering, they organised it all on the day including extra help to serve the food which included a hog roast and a whole roast lamb, salmon, salads to die for, and cake, cake and more cake. The cheese board was a table full of cheese and at midnight Bob made about 30 pizzas in his home made pizza oven for the hungry youth element who partied on until about 1pm the following day. Luckily the music switched off at 5am, just when the neighbours were heading to the fields to collect their cows for milking. Milk shakes more like as a superb firework display delighted all at about 11.30pm, sending all livestock to the furthest ends of their fields.

Minnie wearing her wedding collar

Minnie wearing her wedding collar

Lola watching the wedding guest coach arriving

Lola watching the wedding guest coach arriving and below, ‘Bad Ass MC’ with the groom

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Bob proudly walking Hazel down to the wedding arch

Bob proudly walking Hazel down to the wedding arch

Dan and Hazel with (R-L) Laura, Louisa, Tamsin stroking Lola with Ollie the photographer behind her, and Zoe

Dan and Hazel with (R-L) Laura, Louisa, Tamsin stroking Lola with Ollie the photographer behind her, and Zoe

Five beer barrels with 150 guests - all the beer was drunk!

Five beer barrels with 150 guests – all the beer was drunk!

The wine store

The wine store (with a huge lump of ice in the trough) and below the tables set out in the marquee, which Bob bought on Curlew for far less than the cost of hiring one…. and he does have another three daughters! Check out the chandelier.

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Dan and his sister Zoe with Lola hangin' in there

Dan and his sister Zoe with Lola hangin’ in there

The two proud fathers, Bob and Dave

The two proud fathers, Bob and Dave

The 'Minister of Lerve' posing here with proud mum Judith , Ollie and LucieAnne

The ‘Minister of Lerve’ posing here with proud mum Judith (R), Ollie and LucieAnne (L)

With Clive in his Bad Company T-shirt, perfect wedding wear X

With Clive in his Bad Company T-shirt, perfect wedding wear X

Cakes, cakes and more cakes, decorated beautifully (Clive & I helped!)

Cakes, cakes and more cakes, decorated beautifully (Clive & I helped!)

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We met some fab people including Graham and Ollie, Donna and John, and Richard and Monica who own a small wood not far from here in Powys. Bob, Jude, Clive and I went over to John and Donna’s farm on Tuesday evening to see their Dexter cows. I’ve never seen a Dexter before and they’re like the Shetland pony of the cattle world.

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The six of us plus a very farty dog Minnie then drove (with windows open) to Richard and Monica’s small forested acreage, laden with food and wine, for an evening in their ‘hut’ which Richard and Bob built a few years ago. We couldn’t however get the land-cruiser up the muddy steep track and had to slide all the way backwards to the bottom, hoping not to skew off the road which would have resulted in us toppling sidewards down a precipitous drop. Reception here is dire and of the six telephones in the car, only mine miraculously had one bar and we were able to alert Richard to our plight. Down he descended with snow chains on all four wheels, packed us all into the back and once again we flew through the trees and up, up, up into the dense woodland, over the brow of the steepest bit, round a hairpin bend and finally arriving at a magnificent front door of a one room cabin, with roaring open fire and views down through superb woodland on three sides.

At the top of the hill is a Grade II listed derelict cottage and Richard had discovered only that afternoon that it had recently been sold to a chap called Stephen who he promptly invited to join with the party that evening. It was a hoot. The first thing a few of us did was walk to the top of the hill and have a good nose round Stephen’s new home before carrying on along the ridge of the hill to explore a derelict castle dating back about 1000 years. It was abandoned in the 13th Century when the English ousted the last Welsh King there by cutting off the water supply. The castle’s population fled to the valley below where they built a new town which to this day is still called Newtown, though it dates from 1277.

Richard and Monica

Richard and Monica

Clive

Clive being pensive

Donna & 'her handsome farmer' John

Donna & ‘her handsome farmer’ John

Donna with the new neighbour Steve

Donna with the new neighbour Steve

Judith playing 'ghost'

Judith playing ‘ghost’

Bob, John & Richard in front of the fabulous fireplace

Bob, John & Richard in front of the fabulous fireplace

Clive and I have done a few excursions over the last three days, to Powis Castle, Shrewsbury, Montgomery and Ludlow, and tonight we are thinking of going with Bob to see live music at the Vaults in Bishop’s Castle. It’s a beautiful part of the country, relatively unspoilt, green hills, lots and lots of trees, lovely hedgerows, cows and sheep everywhere you look. And the people aren’t bad either!

Powis Castle and gardens, including the plunge pool built in the 1700s

 

Check out those hedges!

Check out those hedges!

The beautiful old Feathers Hotel in Ludlow

The beautiful old Feathers Hotel in Ludlow

These fabulous old carvings adorn the building

These fabulous old carvings adorn the building

IMG_4935IMG_4933We are heading home to Harwich at the weekend, hoping the holiday traffic doesn’t put a damper on the lovely break are having.

 

Harwich Festival, Secret Gardens and the Occasional Sail

The summer marches on and what beautiful weather it has been. An amazing thunder and lightning storm last week lighting up the skies for more than 2 hours in the early morning.

We had the Harwich Festival which was once again superb, lots to see, hear and take part in, including weaving a whale out of willow on the beach which now hosts children playing in it, dogs peeing on it and sparrows using it as a giant perch for catching tiny spiders for their breakfast, lunch and tea. The whale is surviving well so far, avoiding vandals and high tides with delicate grace, and the dogs are keeping it well watered…..

The fabulous Italian Luca Ciarla Quartet playing at the Electric Palace

The fabulous Italian Luca Ciarla Quartet playing at the Electric Palace

The willow beached whale

The willow beached whale

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And the Secret Gardens were brilliant the weekend before last.

IMG_4839I’d ‘pimped my sun brolly’ the day before, replacing the faded and moulding tassels I’d sewn on three years ago with bright much commented on signal flags.  I had 363 people through the cottage and back again (and three dogs). The weather was good, only raining at 3.50pm on day 2 with ten minutes to go until it finished. The only downside to hosting is that you don’t get to see the other gardens. I will have to have a rota of pals next year to give me a hand. I was on cinema duty that evening so no rest for me. I thought I’d pulled the short straw as Baywatch was being screened. Expecting it to be dire, I was pleasantly surprised to find it was hilarious, a spoof on the original TV series, with cameo appearances from Hasselhoff and Anderson, it was a hoot.

We sailed up to Wolverstone on the River Orwell with Clive’s daughter Niamh, before she flew to Western Australia last Monday to spend her third University year there, reading International Business Studies. It was hot sunny day alas with very little wind so we motor-sailed to get there in time for a late lunch. It was the first time Niamh has been out on DD and she loved it.

Niamh as our figurehead as we headed into the River Orwell

Niamh as our figurehead as we headed into the River Orwell

And Clive and our friend Roddy sailed again up the Orwell to Pin Mill last weekend, overnighting on the river. It was Roddy’s first time sailing and he is a natural! I joined them later in the evening with Fergus, who is on holiday in Harwich, for a barbecue on the beach with some of the chaps from Harwich Town Sailing Club, which combined peace and tranquillity with fun and adventure. Trying to find them in the first place was almost traumatic as they weren’t actually at Pin Mill, they were about a kilometre down river, accessed by a long walk through the woods for about 2 km and back again 1 ½ km, where I found Clive who’d squelched his way round the reed beds along the river bank to try and find us. And squelch, squelch, mud inbetween the toes and up our legs until we reached sand with a fire going in the distance, and there was the posse and barbecue ready for our sausages. Sod trying to get back the same way, especially as the tide came right in – Fergus, who detests boats with a vengeance, was going to have to get in the rib with the rest of us to get back to Pin Mill and various boats on their moorings. Second adventure, trying to find our way back to Pin Mill in the dark on the river – and boy was it dark! No moon though lovely stars and eventually, slowly phutphutting our way round various obstacles in the river, boats, buoys, more boats, we found a pontoon which I hopped onto, Fergus crawled onto, bidding good night to the others who then made their way to Distant Drum to drop Clive and Roddy off.

The boys heading back to our mooring buoy in the Stour

The boys heading back to our mooring buoy in the Stour, a storm heading our way whipping up the sea

Ominous skies promised lovely rain

Ominous skies promised lovely rain, which came down in buckets a short time later

Fergus is very sprightly for his 14 years and four months age and at the Pin Mill barbecue he kept everyone playing ‘throw my stick’ for about three solid hours, never giving up. Consequently he spent Sunday fast asleep, lifting his head from time to time to see if I was close by before head thwumping down again, eyes already closed for the next snooze. I tried to take him for a walk at about 11am & half way down the beach he about-turned and headed for home and bed once again. That’s the trouble with getting old, it takes more time to recover from having a good time, than the having a good time took in the first place!

IMG_5896I have just about finished the cottage renovation, replacing all the internal doors with lovely reclaimed, paint stripped, pine doors, beautifully hung by Mick the carpenter and his son. Cottage duly transformed.

Sanding the doors down in the garden

Sanding the doors down in the garden

Two doors hung downstairs and three on the next two floors

Two doors hung downstairs and three on the next two floors

It’s the Harwich Brewery annual beer festival this coming weekend and Clive and I are working the taps on Friday and Saturday evenings, helping pour the pints for the masses. I do hope the weather is good. It’s a fantastic venue in the Redoubt Fort. All the barrels get lowered down into the centre of the fort using pulley wheels. Well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity. Only £3 to get in, it is worth it just to see the beautifully restored fort.

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We’ve been to a couple of great parties this summer with a few more to go. This makes a welcome change and it’s so lovely catching up with old friends, there is very little better. And on that note, I’ll leave you with this little gem…

En route to Walton this farmer has a great sense of humour

En route to Walton this farmer has a great sense of humour

Ostend to Harwich

The festival continued to be full of surprises, with receptions and parties daily, starting with the Welcome Reception for Skippers on the Thursday, where the infamous Hubert Rubbens (the festival organiser) welcome speech was in Flemish, French and perfect English.

On the Friday evening we were all invited to the Captains Reception aboard a huge Russian four-masted tall ship called Kruzenshtern. This magnificent ship, originally German built, is used for sea cadet training and early in the event I surprised a canoodling couple of young cadets, clearly embarrassed to by caught sucking each others faces and fumbling at each others buttons. I soon put paid to that! One of the ship’s officers turned up a few moments later so I reckon I did them a great service. Blinis and caviar canapés abounded, yum.

Howard & Sue looking cool on a hot day, itching to get to the four master

Howard & Sue looking cool on a hot day, itching to get to the four master

Perhaps not quite so cool, happy all the same

Perhaps not quite so cool, happy all the same

The Russian four-master with a little three master alongside

The Russian four-master with a little three master alongside

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I wouldn't want to be working out which ropes are which aboard this beast

I wouldn’t want to be working out which ropes are which aboard this beast

Cold war thawing

Cold war thawing

Reluctantly leaving this magnificent ship

Reluctantly leaving this magnificent ship

On the Saturday morning we all assembled for the Crew’s Parade to the City Hall where we were greeted, once again in Flemish, French and perfect English, by the new Mayor of Ostend and Hubert. Not knowing any Dutch at all, and only managing to master ‘good day’ and ‘thank you’ during our stay here, I felt suitably humbled by the superb linguistics of the Belgian and Dutch people we met.

The Parade gets going

The Parade gets going

With the Russian Cadets bringing up the rear

With the Russian Cadets bringing up the rear

The boys doing their best to keep up...

The boys doing their best to keep up…

Hubert on the podium

Hubert on the podium

The Festival wrapped up on the Sunday with all vessels sounding their fog horns at 1800 hrs. We had locked out of the Mercator Dock at 11am, along with Sue & Howard who were heading for Flushing, as we needed to leave early the next morning to catch the tide back to Harwich, and we headed to the Royal Ostend Yacht Club at the end of the harbour, a tram ride / medium walk from the centre.  Just finished lunch after berthing when we saw a dark rib coming up river with three sets of reflecto shades on board… “Bit James Bond”, says Clive, and lo it’s the Douane and on they hop… I offered them a cup of tea in great British fashion. Non! was their response. After an hour of paper shuffling, checking our passports, radio licence, sailing certificates, registration document, engine size and serial number, etc, they hopped off… This drove a coach and horses through our plans to get back to the Festival for the fog-horn blasting! Ce la vie! We instead got back for about 7pm and went for dinner at a great restaurant, the Den Artiest on Kapucijnenstraat, with the crew of Maryll, Keith, Jules and Tony. A fabulous end to the week.

Our crossing home was beautifully uneventful, taking 12 hours to reach Harwich, in good time to get a nights rest before Libby’s funeral on the Tuesday. Though we had the sails up, we ended up motor-sailing as the wind dropped right off, frustratingly. The sails added a couple of knots of speed and we averaged about 7 knots. Without the engine we would have taken about 36 hours!

We passed a few ships on the way home, including a cruise ship once back in the Stour

We passed a few ships on the way home, including a cruise ship once back in the Stour

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Clive in the dog house

Clive in the dog house

A beautiful old Belgian yacht sailing past Felixstowe docks

A beautiful old Belgian yacht sailing past Felixstowe docks

A suitably good send off for my lovely old friend took place at Hatfield Broad Oak church, attended by many who came to celebrate Libby’s life. The church had just had its annual flower festival and along with brightly coloured garlands for us all to wear, the atmosphere was lifted by the beautiful flowers. And though it was so sad, spending time with lovely old friends helped to lift the spirits.

When we were aboard the Kruzenshtern we met Bret and Sandy, owners of a large Dutch Barge called Rival. They were heading back to the UK after seven years of cruising the canals of France, Belgium and Holland, to settle in Woodbridge, just north of us in SE Suffolk. They were planning on motoring her over on the coming Thursday and were keen to find somewhere to stop still until the spring tide on June 9th / 10th. I blithely suggested Harwich and I gave them the contact details for the pier masters. As we were approaching Ha’penny Pier I called the pier master to make sure we were able to berth on the pontoon and sure enough, he’d just spoken to the Rival crew and they were booked onto Ha’penny Pier from Thursday, thank you very much Ms Davies. And so began their adventure…

All was well, lovely sunshine and light airs until last Tuesday when a storm whipped up, the heavens opened and the 100 tonne Rival tossed furiously in the waves hitting the pontoon. Sandy, Bret and their two dogs were forced to abandon barge for 24 hours, being lifted off by a team of butch chaps before tying more lines onto Rival, adding fenders and tyres for protection for both the pier and the vessel. Sanctuary was offered in Castlegate Street for canine and human alike until a room at the Alma Inn was secured. By the following evening the winds blew to south-west once more, and though they continued to blow hard, the direction ensured the rough water subsided enough for comfortable habitation. By this time we’d all become firm friends, apart from the pier masters who now glower at me for daring to introduce the new invaders….

Rival looking fairly comfortable in the rough water, riding the swell with the pontoons

Rival looking fairly comfortable in the rough water, riding the swell with the pontoons

There's a sunk fisherman's tender being held close to the surface by the fenders you see in the photo

There’s a sunk fisherman’s tender being held close to the surface by the fenders you see in the photo

The barge successfully navigated to Woodbridge on Saturday with the help of a barge skipper and old friend of the couple, John Timms, and I drove to Felixstowe Ferry to photograph them entering the River Deben – a tricky entrance with a famously inhospitable bar, and I’m not talking where you get served beer. Rather an underwater dune of shifting sand eager to ground unsuspecting sailors, and to be approached at rising to high tide. I didn’t quite pick out the whites of Bret’s and John’s eyes in the wheel house as they headed for the beach, though I tried! Clive would have loved to go with them however he’s started his dream job once more at Hamford Waters for the summer months, counting little terns and other rare birds, checking the seals health and towing miscalculating sailors off the mud banks and oyster beds. A blustery weekend though thankfully without the rain.

Rival and crew preparing to leave Harwich after their adventurous week

Rival and crew preparing to leave Harwich after their adventurous week

Approaching the Deben, just over the bar

Approaching the Deben, just over the bar

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It's quite a thing seeing these vessels so close to the beach

It’s quite a thing seeing these vessels so close to the beach

Coming in to their new home up river, one of their new neighbours and an old friend of theirs, Chris, ready to help them in

Coming in to their new home up river, one of their new neighbours and an old friend of theirs, Chris, ready to help them in

Et Voila! Rival has arrivalled

Et Voila! Rival has arrivalled

And relax!

And relax!

Oh yes, it’s back…. Bog Watch:

Mercator Marina gets 5 out of 5, lovely new shower block, spotlessly clean and though tokens are needed for the showers, the water is unlimited and lashings of it.

Royal Ostend Yacht Club gets 2 out of 5. A little jaded, though functional, and you pay an extra 3 Euros for the use of them. You are unable to adjust the temperature of the water in the shower and it got hotter and hotter and hotter until it was almost unbearable.

Oostende voor Anker Festival 2017

We got here on Monday evening after a 14 hour passage from Harwich, and met up with Sue and Howard yesterday afternoon after spotting them sailing down the coast. The Ostend at Anchor Festival began in earnest today, which is also a Belgian bank holiday. The weather is beautiful and here are some photos….

Looking back at Harwich as we sail out into the North Sea

Looking back at Harwich as we sail out into the North Sea

Over the boom to Languard

Over the boom to Languard

The Principality of Sealand

The Principality of Sealand

Tad on the bow

Tad on the bow

A Dolphin enjoying the momentum created by the bow wave

A Dolphin enjoying the momentum created by the bow wave

A mirage of a floating ship on the horizon

A mirage of a floating ship on the horizon

Clive and Tad

Clive and Tad

The colour of the sea blended into the sky as dusk approached

The colour of the sea blended into the sky as dusk approached

Approaching Ostend

Approaching Ostend

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

Tad & Clive enjoying their Belgian apple pie, cream and icecream

Tad & Clive enjoying their Belgian apple pie, cream and icecream

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A Spanish Galleon, coming through the lock into Mercator dock, and it struggled to get round the corner...

A Spanish Galleon, coming through the lock into Mercator dock, and it struggled to get round the corner…

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Cpn Jack reclining on a sleeping sea monster while Fergus looks on

Cpn Jack reclining on a sleeping sea monster while Fergus looks on

Ice-cream light house

Ice-cream light house

We spotted Bonify about 2 miles off the coast and tracked her coming into the harbour from the beach and the harbour wall. Howard & Sue made an impressive entrance in full sail!

We spotted Bonify about 2 miles off the coast and tracked her coming into the harbour from the beach and the harbour wall. Howard & Sue made an impressive entrance in full sail!

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Bonify and Mariall joined together to come through the lock gates

Bonify and Maryll joined together to come through the lock gates

Mega amount of bicycles stored outside Ostend train station

Mega amount of bicycles stored outside Ostend train station

Bunting and flags

Bunting and flags

Mercator dock where we are berthed with the train station in the distance

Mercator dock where we are berthed with the train station in the distance

Pontoon entertainment

Pontoon entertainment

the Hot Rats, a superb UK band entertaining a crowd of people on day one of the Festival

The Hot Rats, a superb UK band entertaining a crowd of people on day one of the Festival

A random pony pulling a trap through the crowds. You could call it a tourist trap....

A random pony pulling a trap through the crowds. You could call it a tourist trap….

Minerva must have the largest flag in the Festival, mind you she is a big vessel

Minerva must have the largest flag in the Festival, mind you she is a big vessel

Barges and boats of all shapes and sizes, from Belgium, Holland, UK, France, and apparently Russia and Spain too - apologies if I've missed any country out

Barges and boats of all shapes and sizes, from Belgium, Holland, UK, France, and apparently Russia and Spain too – apologies if I’ve missed any country out

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Sue with Kieth and Julie, who own Mariall, aboard Bonify, just five boats away from Distant Drum

Sue with Kieth and Julie, who own Maryll, aboard Bonify, just five boats away from Distant Drum

Distant Drum in situ

Distant Drum looking very happy and lovely

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