The Queen and I

Of all the 80 odd boats anchored and moored in this bay there are only two with varnished teak and mahogany brightwork.  One is the royal yacht, given by  former King Constantine of Greece, to his wife Queen Anne Marie on her 60th birthday.
 The other is mine. 
The Mediterranean sun  is so harsh it acts almost as a blow-lamp on anything varnished, causing it to crack and peal off in just a few months. So most boat owners prefer to leave any teak details grey and untreated. My boat's toe rail happens to be mahogany so it can't be left without varnish. I cover it up in winter time and at the beginning of every season I scrape, sand and patch up any damaged bits, varnish them 6 times and then give three strokes over all the rest. I've found out that instead of  standing or kneeling and  leaning precariously out over the side of the deck, I can do the whole job from the dinghy. This requires very calm weather so I won't be bouncing up and down balancing with brush, turps, rags and a full tin of varnish. Woe betide anyone who charges past with a motor boat at full speed kicking up a small tsunami enough to tip everything over, including me.

One boat that really did take the consideration of gliding very slowly past was in fact "Afroessa"  the royal yacht. I always give a  little wave to every boat that passes at close quarters so I waved my brush at the woman on deck  that I had eye contact with. She waved back with a smile. It was only afterwards I realised it was HM Queen Anne Marie. 
As we have some small things in common, we are both boat owners and both born the same year, we have both lived abroad most of our lives, the Queen in exile, myself by choice. I couldn't help thinking of our very different lives and how being born a princess and later becoming Queen doesn't make that much difference in the long run. Both she and I are human after all and we have both had our share of happiness and sorrow, very good times and very hard times, success and disaster. 
But as Eleanor Roosevelt once said:
A woman is like a tea bag- you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.

Never give up

The other day when other boats had left, leaving me plenty of space to manoeuvre, I decided to take a short sailing trip. I slowly engined out and rolled out the genua. At first I thought I'd just go across the bay to get a change of scenery but well out there I carried on out to the open sea between the mainland and the island of Spetses.  
The feeling of freedom can't be described. It was beautiful, but I didn't want to venture too far though as the wind was getting up. Turning around I found a  lovely spot in the clear waters of the mouth of the bay. After dropping the anchor in 4 meters of turquoise blue heaven, I  went for a swim. This was what I had dreamed of doing for months, in fact I felt a surge of happiness for a moment. If only Max could have seen me now. 
After lunch and a nap the wind got stronger so I decided to wait until it died down a little before attempting to return to the busy anchorage on the other side of the bay.
Just then an elderly Danish guy came rowing over from his boat. " Can one of you help me get my anchor up?"he asked "I'm not strong enough to manage it alone"
"I'm alone too,"  I said " and I'm not sure I'm strong enough either" ( I had seen he didn't have an electric windlass)
"Never mind, - sorry I asked" he grunted and rowed off. He turned round and shouted " How can you manage such a big boat if you're not strong?"
I had a bad conscience then of course and decided to do what I could to help.
When  I went over to his boat in my dinghy I got a better look at him and could see he was way over 80.  
I told him , if it was a matter of  running the engine and steering the boat while he looked after the anchor then I could help. But he looked at me and said " No, that won't do, you're just as old as I am!"
Thanks for that!
Then I offered to take my dinghy over to another anchored yacht and ask for help.
When I got over there the english boatowner  replied:
" Oh no , not him again! - never mind, I'll go and help" which he did. 
After a lot of time and effort his anchor was finally up. Then he  inched his boat slowly forward and only 10- 20 meters further on  he dropped it again! I don't know what difference he thought it made.
In the early evening I returned to  the muddy waters of the town anchorage again after a  lovely refreshing and enlightening day.
Several days later I could still see his boat in the distance on the other side of the bay. I wondered if he was alright and if he could call for help if he needed it.
Today he passed me in his boat as he arrived at the buoyed area I'm now in. He had apparently engine trouble and was taken on tow by the boatyard's dory. 

I hope people don't tire of helping this guy.
I also sincerely hope nobody ever takes it upon themselves to tell him it's time to stop sailing, - and who would have the heart to do so ? He doesn't do any harm and he's probably much happier pottering about in his boat than he ever would be on dry land. He keeps fitter too with all the fresh air and exercise involved in living aboard.
Somebody once said - " Riding out a storm at sea is no challenge at all compared with spending your last years in an old peoples home"

Perhaps he's doing the right thing.


This is the image I see on my Anchor Alert app. The yellow blobs show where the boat has been all night. When Aquarella passes the outer red ring which indicates the limit I have set (length of chain) the alarm goes off. It sounds like a fog horn with bronchitis. Nearly all  the other boats you can see are moored to permanent mooring buoys.

After several very windy nights without sleep, wondering if my anchor would hold, I decided to hire a mooring buoy from "Franks Yacht station" here in Porto Heli for a few weeks. This means the boat is securely tied up with minimal risk of anything happening. I'm still free to go sailing whenever I want and I have the buoy to return to. I can also leave the boat if I need to be ashore for any length of time. The fee for the buoy includes the facilities at the yacht station/ boatyard including a shower and washing machine.
I was a little nervous going to pick up the buoy for the first time but the guy from the boatyard was there to help and he directed me in as if Aquarella was a Boeing 787.
The following day I took my washing ashore in the hope I could get it all done in an hour or so. 
I got back to the boat 9 hours later after a very enjoyable day.
The machine was occupied when I came and the queue of bags of washing was long. Behind a row of old boat toilets filled with blooming geraniums a group of people were sitting drinking wine at a long table under a tin roof . "Come and join us, they said" so I parked my bag of washing in the queue and sat down with them to wait.
They were all boatowners and introduced themselves. After a short time it was clear that several of them were in the same situation as myself. Marie-Louise from Germany lost her husband two years ago and has been sailing her 42 ft catamaran ever since. Mike, also from Germany lost his wife last December and is now on board his yacht with his brother Ralf. Susie from England lives aboard her catamaran on the yard together with her sick husband.
So suddenly I didn't feel so sorry for myself anymore and it was great meeting new friends with so much in common. We drank wine and talked for hours. I asked Marie Louise about how she tackles eating alone on board. She told me how she makes a special effort to prepare good food for herself and lays a nice table with a glass of wine and sits down and enjoys it. At restaurants she thought it hard at first and felt conspicuous. So to avoid other peoples stares she surrounded herself with a book or newspaper, mobile phone or ipad, whatever. But now she doesn't need this barricade anymore, it's very much a matter of your own attitude and getting used to your new situation, she said. If a waiter shows you to a table that doesn't suit you, tell him to find you another one or leave!
I really admired her determination and attitude and felt strengthened by it myself, or maybe it was the wine. 
She gave me some more tips too.
When I told her how I anchor by letting 10 meters of chain out and running back to the helm to reverse slowly. Then I run forward again and let 10 more out, run back to the helm, reverse and so on.
She said: "Don't ever run!" if you run , the chances are you will fall and theres no one there to pick you up.
That was good advice.
Then I heard about the technique she uses for returning to her mooring buoy. It's not easy to aim the boat to a tiny buoy in a cross wind with other boats at close quarters. As soon as you stop,the boat starts to drift so you don't have many seconds to tie up.
She ties an inflatable canoe to the buoy with a long line before she leaves. On return this gives her a longer scope and a much better chance of picking up the line with a boat hook .
I hope this will work for me, I don't have an extra canoe in my locker but a large fender with a long line might do the trick.
This afternoon I was invited on board Lillybelle from Scotland owned by George and Chris.
Chris showed me how to tie the highwayman's hitch, something I can use a lot when I need a strong knot that can easily and quickly be released with a single tug.
They say you are never too old to learn.
I'm learning new things every day. 
Most of all I'm learning to survive, physically, practically, emotionally and mentally.